The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done: Running the LA Marathon

It’s official. Running is a mental illness. I’m counting down the days until marathon running is entered into the DSM. It’s only a matter of time. Four days ago I finished the LA Marathon—however reluctantly. Nothing in my life has challenged me physically and mentally like those 26.2 miles. The experience was leaps and bounds more difficult than my first marathon.

Let me get the bummer stuff out of the way. The LA Marathon just isn’t for me. As much as I love Los Angeles (and I do, deeply), running across it did nothing for me. I thought the experience of bipedally moving from the east side to the west, unencumbered by traffic and a vehicle, would instill a great deal of civic pride in my heart. It did not. The first six miles were great. Brad was still running with me. We trotted through the streets of downtown Los Angeles discovering little gazebos and walkways that you just don’t notice when you’re in a car. I felt fresh and strong, and the city looked great. Once the race got really hard (which I’ll get to in a minute) the city lost its luster and no amount of drag performers in WeHo or palm trees on Rodeo Drive could cheer me up.

I wanted to run the Walt Disney World Marathon because I knew that no matter how hard the running got or how bad I felt physically, I would be in my happy place. I thought the environment would act as a stimulant when my legs wanted to give out, and I was right. My old pal Mickey got me through. I loved running through the world of Disney because the whole place made me happy. I love Los Angeles but my associations with the city are not that pure. There are certain neighborhoods and streets that feel like happy places and others that feel like haunts. I’d pass down a street near where I used to live years ago and think, “Oh that was a tough time in my life.” Who wants to be reminded of such chapters of one’s life when doing the hardest thing you’ve ever attempted to do? Total bummer. No, LA has way too many complex emotional associations to make for a good marathon environment.

Another benefit to Walt Disney World was that I did not know the geography. I had no idea how far it was from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios so I couldn’t think about the many miles from point A to point B. Not knowing the terrain forced me into the moment and the mile at hand. Very beneficial. In Los Angeles, however, I am all too acutely aware of how far it is from Hollywood to Brentwood and so when running down Sunset Blvd I felt completely crushed by the thought of making it allllll the way to Wilshire. Are you kidding me? I have to run to Crescent Heights? I’m only at Sunset Junction! Not possible! When it comes to running those kinds of distances, ignorance is bliss.

I live in Venice and I work in Glassell Park. For those of you who don’t know LA geography, Venice is as far west as you can go, and Glassell Park is about as far east as you can go and still say you’re in Los Angeles. In short, I traverse the entire city from west to east and back again—every—single—day. Why did I think going from the “Stadium to the Sea” would hold any novelty for me? It felt like my commute.

My last beef with the LA Marathon is logistical. WHY IS IT SO HARD TO ORDER ENOUGH BATHROOMS TO ACCOMMODATE 26,000 PEOPLE? I swear. It seems that every race I do skimps on the port-0-potties and I seriously don’t understand it. There’s no way to irritate a runner faster than a) run out of water or b) not provide enough bathrooms thus causing said runner to have to wait in line when she should be running. This is exactly what happened. I may have had one too many garlic knots the night before at C&O Trattoria but I had to make two bathroom stops during the marathon. Guess how long I waited in line? Go ahead. Guess.

20 minutes.

What?! That is unacceptable. I was already having a painfully slow race but to add an extra 20 minutes to my time, and then another 10 minutes for the second bathroom stop, that is heartrendingly significant. We all paid a lot of money to run this thing. Can’t we go to the bathroom in a timely manner? Oh and the first john I used ran out of toilet paper. Not cool. I mean there just aren’t a lot of options in that scenario.

So those are the reasons both personal and logistical that I won’t be running the LA Marathon, specifically, again anytime soon. I’m glad I did it. I was curious. But now I know.

More bummer stuff—I’m ashamed of my time. Listen, I never ever judge anyone else’s running pace. I don’t believe there is a certain speed at which you become a real runner. It’s personal. A 10 minute mile may be slow to one runner and unattainably fast for another. To Meb, an 8 minute mile is a very gentle jog. I can’t even imagine. We run to discover our capabilities and ranges, and learn to perform within them. Me? At my best, I’m a 10 minute mile runner on a 5k, an 11 on 10k, and an 11:00-11:30 on a half marathon. Knowing that range I believe in my heart of hearts that I should be able to do a marathon between a 12:00-13:00 minute mile. I believe I can do that.

This marathon clocked in at a 15:00. Part of that was due to the half hour I wasted using the loo, but even taking that out of consideration I generally clocked about a 14:00 on my Garmin. Here’s the thing. I’m not a 15 minute mile runner. I’m not a 14 minute mile runner. I’m just not. So even though I finished the race and got my medal, I feel beat. I feel like the course and the day got the best of me. Even though my mom keeps telling me I should feel proud, I don’t feel proud. Two in and I’ve yet to perform a marathon at my potential.

There was a litany of reasons specific to where I’m at right now as a runner that made this race so slow and painful. The greatest challenge I faced going in was that I was injured for about 50% of my training. By the time I hit the double digit training runs I was almost crippled by shin splints. Even on 3 mile runs I could barely get my time below a 12:30 minute mile. Brutal. I was this close to skipping the marathon after I barely finished a 16 mile run. It was an “oh what the hell” attitude that got me to sign up, not any kind of belief in my strength.

I was injured, and I was overweight. Look, I like myself. I like my body. Maybe if I were a bit more dissatisfied on an emotional level it would be easier to lay off the calories that have put this extra weight on my frame. But alas, I’m fairly confident in my skin and didn’t feel all that motivated to slim down for this race that I wasn’t even that enthusiastic about running in the first place. To be overweight as a runner is tough stuff. It makes your job ten times harder. It is precisely the same thing as a fit person with no body fat trying to run 26.2 miles wearing a forty pound lead suit. It would slow anyone down. I don’t need to lose forty pounds but I could stand to lose twenty-five. I think if I did that, that might be the only missing link to my elusive 5:30 marathon.

So what was it like to run a marathon with all of those things working against me? As I said on Instagram, I can’t imagine anything in the world—short of torture and maybe childbirth—harder than running that race. (I’ve actually heard several women tell me that giving birth was easier for them than running a marathon, so there you go). I hit a wall at mile thirteen. THIRTEEN. It’s normal and expected to hit a wall at some point but usually it’s around 18. Then you work through it until about mile 21, and you’ve got the last 5 miles on adrenaline. I hit it with HALF OF THE RACE LEFT TO RUN. Besides a few brief and fleeting runner’s high moments, I pushed against that wall for the entire rest of the race.

What does it mean to hit a wall? I think the best way to imagine it is literally. Imagine running in place, now push up against a wall. Now don’t stop. Now keep doing that for five hours. Now imagine there are thousands of people around you running right through the wall but you still have to push against it. Now imagine the feeling like you’re not getting anywhere even though your feet are moving in a manner that would suggest forward motion. Now imagine that this is your fate for all time. Like Sisyphus, you are to push against this wall for eternity. Now imagine you feel more alone than you’ve ever felt in your life. Now imagine the time you felt like the biggest failure in the entire universe. Now feel like that. Now magnify that feeling by ten. Keep pushing against that wall. Now imagine you’re nauseous. Now imagine your mouth is on fire but no matter how much water you drink your mouth is still thirsty, but you can’t drink more because then your stomach will be even more nauseous. Now imagine a car just rolled over your feet.

It’s kind of like that.

It is so difficult to put the struggle into words because I don’t actually remember any of it. I remember it intellectually, but I don’t remember the pain. Nature does this as a defense mechanism so we’ll repeat painful things like childbirth without hesitation, but I’m not sure Mother Nature anticipated the effect on marathon runners. I imagine her looking down on us from some celestial treehouse shouting “You guys! Stop it! I wiped the pain memory for making babies! Not for this! This is ridiculous!” Runners don’t listen though. I don’t remember the pain. Which is what has led me to my next question…

Which marathon should I run next?

At mile 20 I promised myself I would draft a document and have it notarized stating that I was not allowed to run another marathon. Ever. Three hours after I’d finished I started doing the math in my head to figure out how much I’d have to save to do Walt Disney World in 2018. I’m telling you. It’s a certifiable mental disorder. Despite the tears running down my face (there were many), despite the pain, the doubt, the struggle—I want to do it again. I understand masochism now. Something about pain and struggle brings us closer to our potential and a divine truth.

Can you tell I’m Catholic?

In all honesty, this race was a spiritual experience. Perhaps it’s the season of Lent that has me meditating deeply on the concept of struggle. When I ran up against that wall I wasn’t running on strength. I had none. I wasn’t running on willpower. I had none. I wasn’t running on grit. I had none. I had nothing. Nothing left. I had to pull from something higher than myself. And whether or not you believe that’s a real thing or just a mind trick, it doesn’t really matter and I don’t really care. It only mattered that it worked. And that higher power—that pull on a force of energy beyond myself—was absolutely the only thing that got me across that finish line. Oh and this song by The Killers.

“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” You see this quote a lot in the running world. You’ll see it written on people’s bibs, printed on people’s shirts. Meb has it listed as the only thing on his Twitter bio. The first time I saw a runner with this passage printed on her running shirt I scoffed. Pfft. I’m a Catholic but I’m not really on board with the whole divinity of Jesus thing. It’s confusing. I’m a bad Catholic. I just don’t believe all the magic miracle stuff, but I do believe that Jesus was an amazing figure with an absolutely incredible story. I love all the rituals, and I love good stories. So what does that passage really mean? It doesn’t have to mean that the magic of Jesus helps win races. It can mean that if you want it to. If you need it to. If it does to you. To me it is the story of the universe—that there is a force which unites all of us. This thing—this energy—is there for us to call on when we need to endure. It is pure goodness and grit. It is mystery and it is power. It is outside us and within us. It never runs out. It never hits a wall. Whether you call it Christ or God or The Force or the Universe, I think the important point is that it is something eternally strong that exists outside of you, but flies like a kite with its string tethered directly to your own heart. And to the heart of every human walking the earth. I accessed that magic on Sunday. I let myself fly that kite, and it is the only reason I finished.

So what were the upsides to running the LA Marathon? Oh of course there were many. That divine revelation thing was pretty cool. Seeing so many friends on course made my heart explode. (Seriously guys, you have no idea how much you helped). I learned a ton. You can’t go halfway on something that hard and expect satisfying results. I didn’t— couldn’t—go all in on my training and I should have adjusted my expectations accordingly for finishing the race. Manage your expectations. Always a good life lesson.

I’m fired up for next time. I may have thrown out the contract prohibiting me from running again, but I left a few provisions. I won’t sign up for another marathon until I’ve dropped 20 pounds. And I won’t sign up for another marathon until I’ve found one that I’m really excited about. I may only have one marathon left in me and if that’s the case I have to see what I’m capable of. Where I run is just as important as how I run. Unfortunately I have top shelf taste. I’d love to run Rome more than anything. Hmm.

It was a true treat to run this race with my husband and Neiman. Even though we didn’t run it together, we were together, you know? Neiman finally broke his 4 hour marathon goal (see what I mean about relativity with pace? that is crazy fast), and Brad made his goal of running the entire race without any walk breaks and he made a great time too. Good job boys.

I learned about struggle. I’m a very laid back and casual person. I’m not Type A. I don’t like things to be hard. This serves me in that I’m a very happy person most of the time. What I learned about myself in this race is that I associate struggle with failure. When things got hard running this race the negative thoughts FLOODED in. I couldn’t keep them out. A true athlete encounters physical struggle, but they win the race by winning the game between their ears. I didn’t lose this marathon with my shin splinty legs. I lost it with my mind.

If running marathons were easy everyone would do it. Everyone doesn’t do it so the struggle makes the difference. If getting a book published were easy everyone would do it. Getting my book published is, as it turns out, very much in the not easy category, so I have to embrace the struggle as a sign pointing me toward success. Insert any dream or goal and the same is true. Struggle is the stuff. It’s the troll guarding the bridge that you either have to fight, escape, or trick into letting you pass. Rejoice when you encounter the struggle troll. Then kick his ass.

Oh and my skirt was really cute.

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There’s more to share but I think it’s time to move on. On to the next race. I’ll take a break from marathon running for a couple of years, but marathon—I’m coming for you. We don’t get to break up like that.

Some photos.

 

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Lovers getting married at Mile 11.

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Completely unappreciative.

Happy running friends!

Long Live the Goblin King

David Bowie died this week. I read the news on Facebook, as I strangely discover most major headlines these days. Checking my feed before bed I read the words “No, no, no,” then “RIP,” then saw a picture of Ziggy Stardust. Didn’t take long to put the story together.

I’ll admit this one knocked the wind out of my sails. Legends die. We all do in fact. The death of Robin Williams last year was intensely tragic. Natalie Cole’s passing a couple of weeks ago had me waxing nostalgic about the times my best friend and I would drive around Sacramento belting Orange-Colored Sky at the top of our lungs. They were both taken too soon. But Bowie. Damn. A world without David Bowie is just WAY less bright, right?

David Bowie is many things to many people—which perhaps is the mark of a truly great artist. The ability to get in deep under the skin of your audience in a personal and individual way, all the while reaching across the globe. (Let’s be real, Bowie reached to the stars). Because of Bowie I finally felt cool at age sixteen, driving around in my orange BMW 2002 blasting Hunky Dory and Space Oddity. He had me thinking early on about what it meant to transform, adapt, and recreate as an artist. He made me want to do just that.

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But I won’t lie to you. More than the rock n roll, the performance art, the gender bending, the rule defying, the musician. More than any of those things, David Bowie was The Goblin King. David Bowie was my sexual awakening.

Don’t lie! I’m not alone! There are memes about this people. It’s a common joke that his character in Labyrinth was responsible for the turning on of millions of adolescents everywhere. But it wasn’t until he passed yesterday that I stopped to think critically about that movie and the role it played in my life. Those tight pants were no accident.

The mark of a great fable is a message masked so well in metaphor that the audience may not even realize the message exists without further intellectual excavation. This is especially true in children’s stories. Children hear stories on the first available frequency. Metaphors make their way into children’s heads, but are filed in a cabinet that remains locked until needed. The emotional impact a great story has on a child is the key that allows them to unlock that cabinet later in life and discover the complex layers of their favorite stories. Whereas an adult may read Alice in Wonderland and be able to pick out the commentary on Victorian society that Carroll was making while having his protagonist confront chaos, at the same time as simply enjoying the story, a child just jumps all the way into Wonderland. So it’s not my fault that I didn’t realize Labyrinth was a metaphor for the sexual awakening of young people. I simply watched the story feeling confused and interested in my attraction to this magical man at the heart of it.

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I thought about Labyrinth a lot yesterday. With my love and nostalgia for the movie I finally unlocked the cabinet of metaphors after 20 years. The first file I uncovered contained my complicated feelings toward David Bowie’s Goblin King . All at once I realized—this story was bold.

Labyrinth is about sex. You could take the safer umbrella approach and say it’s about “growing up,” but no, no no. It is quite specifically about the discovery and development of a young lady’s sexuality. In our culture we don’t like to talk openly about burgeoning sexuality in young women (or men, for that matter), which is probably why we end up fetishizing it. We really should allow ourselves to address the sexuality of young people in a more honest way. Unlike literary metaphors, sexual development is not a thing that should be locked in a cabinet until adults feel more comfortable. But I digress. Here’s the deal with Labyrinth:

The baby Toby is not just a baby, he’s Sarah’s innocence and childhood. The Goblin King is sex embodied. The Labyrinth is puberty. That’s the framework. Just as The Goblin King’s castle lies at the heart of the Labyrinth, sex and all its mysteries lie at the heart of puberty. If you lay those metaphors over the devices in this film it plays out beautifully.

Sarah feels the tedium of childhood dragging down her blossoming independence. In an adolescent fit she wishes it away completely. Enter sex. Sexuality, aka Jareth, steals her childish innocence, aka the baby, and hides it deep in a maze filled with temptations and tricks which she must navigate successfully before it’s lost forever.

You remember how the movie goes. Helping hands, talking worms, oubliette. Lets skip to the next act.

Just when she almost gets to the heart of the maze she is tempted by two things. She bites into a peach (not an apple by the way, a peach, think on it) and hallucinates her most romantic fantasy. She is the queen and paramour of a seriously sexy hero in a mask. If she just gives in she can live forever entrapped in this fairytale of dancing and swooning.

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This is the ultimate trap of our burgeoning sexuality isn’t it? We are drawn helplessly to the romances that play out in our heads—peppered more and more with adult content with each passing day of puberty. How many of you were pissed at Sarah for not staying trapped in that crystal ball with Jareth?

*Raises hand*

I wanted what I saw on the screen. But I also felt shame that I wanted it. I knew it was wrong to have romantic feelings toward this character because, well, he was a grown man, but also because he was the villain of the story. Through Sarah’s hesitation I discovered the shame that lingers so dangerously close to sex. I knew I shouldn’t want what I saw but I did. I wanted the movie to end there and stay lost in the reverie of princess gowns and mystery men and palace love-making. I VERY reluctantly followed Sarah out of the fantasy.

Our hero is strong. She knows something is missing from the masquerade and breaks free of the hallucination. So The Goblin King tries another tactic of the opposite ilk. He drops her back into her childhood room—filled with teddy bears, toys, blankets, and all the comforts of innocence. If she doesn’t want to be a slave to her fantasies then perhaps he can get her to regress into her childhood and control her that way.

Jareth’s second attempt at entrapping our hero fails. She is drawn to the comfort of her own innocence but she knows almost immediately that something is wrong. You can never go back. She bursts through the artifice that is a preserved childhood and journeys on to the heart of her sexuality. Brilliant.

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And what happens when she gets there? She plays a cat and mouse game with The Goblin King as he serenades her seductively. She sees the baby, her elusive childhood, always just out of reach. No matter. The baby was bait for her to confront what was really going on. And what’s really going on? I’ll tell you what’s really going on. David Bowie in Freudian bulge pants is what is going on.

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At the heart of the maze and the top of the castle there’s nowhere else to go. It’s just our hero and sex. And what does sex say?

“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

Bold words for a grown man in bulge pants to utter to a 15 year old girl, right? Let me control you, he says. Despite his offer our hero discovers the only truth that could at once save her childhood and free her from the madness of puberty.

“You have no power over me.”

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It’s so good, right? I especially love Jareth’s face when she says it. He’s not angry and screechy, Wicked Witch of the West style, like Oh no! You won! What a world! He just looks disappointed, yet knowing. Like he hasn’t been conquered, but relegated to a supporting role in Sarah’s story, to appear at a later date.

I watched this movie when I was younger than Jennifer Connelly, so from my childish perspective she was older and thus an adult, so she and Bowie seemed about the same age to me. It wasn’t until I revisited Labyrinth as an adult myself that my jaw dropped as I discovered, holy crap she was a child!

This story titillated 14 year old feelings toward a 39 year old man. Bold! It allowed us to explore that complexity, then showed us the way out. Important. It went there, you guys. You can’t deny it. It went there. It showed us that puberty is a thing that happens to you, it’s not a thing that defines you. It’s messy, and it’s tricky, but you drive. This movie held our hand and said it’s okay to feel sexual feelings in the same season of life that you might still be clinging to your teddy bear. We know it’s confusing. It’s okay.

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How creepy and perfect is this picture?

Her proclamation of control frees Sarah from the Labyrinth and she’s instantly dropped back in her room. Her baby brother, released from his metaphorical duties, is safe in his crib. She is now confident enough in her own growing up that she can let go of her teddy bear and pass it along to the next generation.

Back in her room she finds her Labyrinth friends, remnants of her journey, in the mirror. The aids we discover in the maze of growing up are always there in our reflection… should we need them.

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(especially for dance parties)

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I love this movie. I mean. I LOVE. This. Movie. Of the Legends, The Dark Crystals, the NeverEnding Stories, I choose Labyrinth every time. I mean don’t get me wrong I loved and continue to love all the epic childhood fantasies the 1980s produced, but Labyrinth stood out among the rest. My devotion is 25% Jim Henson’s puppetry, 10% Sir Didimus, 5% “I’m just a worm,” and at least 60% David Bowie. At least.

And so, dear David Bowie, Jareth, Goblin King, God of Sex, you really did a lot for me. Listening to bad-ass rock n roll while my peers were hooked on Britney Spears was great. (Who am I kidding? I also listened to Britney Spears). But that wasn’t your greatest contribution to my life. To me, you will always be the mystery at the heart of sexuality. The tempter, the hero, the villain, the prince. All of it.

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Rest in peace, my Goblin King.

 

 

 

Life on Tahiti Time

This funny thing happened in Tahiti where time stopped. We were ensconced in a tropical paradise bubble where the sun rose and set but time didn’t actually move forward. I don’t think we aged the 10 days we were island-bound. Really, quantum physicists should check this out. It’s weird.

You see, time in my life has always been in relation to my goals. I’ve felt the clock ticking feverishly since I was a child.

How many days until Christmas?

How many days until school gets out?

I want to lose weight. How much time do I have before prom to do that?

I want to be an actress. How much time do I have? Let me stalk IMDB and see what age other actresses were when they got their breaks and I’ll compare myself until I’m satisfied.

I want to run a marathon. How much time do I have to train?

I want to get to the weekend. How many days until the weekend?

I want to leave work. What hand is on what number on that clock?

I want to be a writer. How much time will it take me to finish this manuscript? How early do I have to get up to get decent writing time in before I have to leave for work? How long will it take me to write 10,000 words. How long do I have to wait before I can resubmit to a different publisher. How long should I wait before I follow up about my submission? How long does it take for a manuscript to make it through the editorial pipeline and onto a bookshelf? How much time do I have left to do all of these things? Do I have enough time? Am I running out of time?

Oh screw it. *Goes on Facebook*

On October 5 I stepped onto the soil of Moorea. Time faded away. No change of seasons. No change of tides. No weekends. No happy hours. No deadlines. No race days. No age limits. No pipelines. No time. Just peace. Quiet. Adventure. Fun. Experience.

Here’s the thing though. I missed time. After 10 days I looked forward to stepping back onto my matrix of timelines. I didn’t want to leave paradise but like some sort of junkie I wanted the pressure of a clock ticking toward something, even if that something was just Halloween in two weeks. Am I crazy? Maybe it’s my Western-wired overly ambitious American brain. Probably. I left Tahiti grateful and rejuvenated by the extended pause. Now I’m ready to start the clock with a healthy perspective that my timelines are made up, they are relative, and they can change in an instant.

Tahiti gave my imagination an oasis to which I can always retreat. When time moves too quickly I will close my eyes and fly away to our beach of coral bones, and our Polynesian pups, and the night-light water and wise manta rays. I will go there and I will feel the clock slow. Thank goodness.

So I’m 31 and I’m not a published author yet. I will adjust my timeline. So it’s Tuesday and I’m facing four more days until the weekend. It’s just a day in time and space and the weekend is made up. I will do one thing today completely for myself that makes me feel free and suddenly I’ve turned Tuesday into a weekend. I’ve let time feel like the enemy in my life. I had to run 4,000 miles to discover that he was a villain of my own creation. Aren’t they always?

Our second to last day in French Polynesia I experienced a perfect moment. The sun sat low in the sky on the other side of the lagoon, shining a glorious warm pink light on the main island of Maupiti. It stood there, the mountain, basking in the warm pinkness of the sunset. Brad snorkeled by the reef, beyond where I could see him. I had just finished a good book. The Polynesian pups slept by my feet and roused as I stood to watch the sun go down. I could not see or hear another living human anywhere. For a brief moment I stood alone on this island with my Polynesian pups and the water and the mountain smiling into the sun. Everything felt warm in a sleepy ember sort of way. A perfect moment. The spirit moved me and I sang Never Never Land to the pups and to the mountain and to my husband out in the sea beyond where he could hear me. I stood there and sang at the top of my lungs as the sun set on our last day. It slipped behind a cloud, into the ocean, and as if on cue I felt the clock start ticking once again. Tick. Tock. Suddenly I understood what sort of vicious creature that Captain Hook was really running from. Brad came in from the sea. My siren song worked. He grabbed my hand and we retreated into our bungalow. Time to go home.

I have a place where dreams are born,
And time is never planned.
It’s not on any chart,
You must find it with your heart.
Never Never Land.

It might be miles beyond the moon,
Or right there where you stand.
Just keep an open mind,
And then suddenly you’ll find
Never Never Land.

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There Are Words For Paradise

We ran to Tahiti. After four years, nine months, and 1 day of dreaming, running, and planning, we are in Tahiti. We ran 4,109 miles to Tahiti and now we are here. Friends, family, and perfect strangers have cheered us on. And we are here.

I very much dislike the phrase “there are no words…” I’m guilty of using it, and at the very least feeling tempted to use it, especially on significant occasions. My wedding day. Crossing the finish line of my first marathon. Running to Tahiti. To feel so much all at once, each sense stimulated, oh how VERY tempting to sit back in that cornucopia of wonder and proclaim “There are no words!”

There are words. There are always wonderful words. Just as there exists a perfect combination of pigment to capture every color of the rainbow, there exists a perfect combination of words to describe every human experience under the sun. There are words. There are always words. What is undeniably difficult is putting them together in the right order – mixing the pigment. In moments such as this, having just returned from a day of snorkeling with dozens of blacktip sharks and kissing sting rays in a crystalline blue lagoon, the right words elude me. Having escaped to picnic on a tiny motu encircled by a seemingly infinite spread of coral reef, and having watched a Polynesian man named Siki teach my husband to open a coconut with his bare hands and a stick, and meet a real life Nemo in a mustard yellow anemone, and kiss a tiki God left stranded on the beach, and learnt to make ceviche from scratch, and stared in disbelief at the electric shade of turquoise that water can be, and did I mention the swimming with sharks? The words are tricky.

Words transported me here. In every story about a far off land. In every tale about a found paradise. Words are our first wings. We read and our minds travel where our eyes can’t yet go. One day we decide to seek the worlds our minds have created. We go in search of Hemingway’s Paris, and Dickens’ London, and Fitzgerald’s New York. We seek Tahiti – the island to which our imagination is already well acquainted. And when we do, we remember that words took us there first.

There are always words. Find the right ones in the right combination and take us where you are. We all want to go. Since I am currently in a magical land, I’ll go first.

I write this from the balcony of the oldest hotel in Moorea. It’s called Club Bali Hai and the lobby looks like a real life Enchanted Tiki Room. Each time I all but hear the name “Club Bali Hai” I sing the mysterious ballad from South Pacific. I bet you are now too. Since this is Moorea’s oldest hotel we are certain it’s haunted. The sun is set and there are only two lights I see in Tahiti. Brad and I of course, but mostly a mysterious pair across Cook’s bay, blinking on and off as if transmitting a code across the sea. I think about Gatsby, and the green light. These aren’t green, they are white, but just as mysterious. Why are those lights blinking? Who lives there? Do they know their lights are communicating? Below us, stray but friendly cats and dogs stroll across the lawn as if on a promenade. There are so many stray cats here, they ease the missing of my own two fur babies back home. How sad Sharky and Mr. Wizard can’t go on adventures. I’m certain they would rather be Polynesian cats chasing crabs. Crabs the size of mangoes that try to hide their presence creeping from hole to hole, which they’ve burrowed so desperately in the ground. How reluctantly these curmudgeonly crabs traverse where sky meets land. They so clearly prefer the under. Under the soil, under the sea. Why must they come up at all if perhaps only to show us that they exist? When the sun sets in Tahiti every other soul disappears. I swear Brad and I are the only humans on this island. All is quiet except the buzz of bugs, the click of crabs, and the gentle flutter of a man-made waterfall in a nearby swimming pool. The ocean is silent. The sun sets and each set of people obviously transports to an alternate dimension where they are the only inhabitants in their world, sitting on balconies in haunted hotels in the middles of the world’s largest oceans – waiting for the sun to rise, and the chance to collide with other sets of peoples in one shared paradise. Tomorrow a rooster will crow at approximately 6:30 am. Tomorrow we will dive below, and see what words can be said about Moorea under the sea.

I’m no master wordsmith but I believe such masters exist. Perhaps for me, and for you my readers, perhaps there are no words I can adequately assemble to paint you the picture of this paradise. I will keep trying, but until then… some terribly inadequate visuals to accompany my inadequate words. I finish today thinking of one word in particular. Gift. What a tremendous gift.

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The welcoming committee.

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Drinking fresh pineapple juice across the bay from where they grow the pineapples.

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That water though.

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Where the other half lives. Overwater bungalows at Intercontinental Resort.

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The motu (tiny island) where we had a Polynesian picnic.

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Tevas on the reef look a lot like coral. As I discovered two minutes later when a fish bit my foot.

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Snorkeling on the motu after lunch.

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Our delightful little Polynesian picnic hut. I seriously can’t stop thinking of Adventureland. Disney did a good job. All those real life adventures paid off. (Disney nerd alert!)

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Lessons from our guide Siki on the many ways to wear a pareo.

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Cooking with Siki. A show. Today’s episode, fresh ceviche.

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Soooo many chickens and roosters on this island.

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An inviting magic tropical forest on tiny magic motu.

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My morning routine. Practice a little French, drink a little coffee, and gaze at a mountain I’d like to climb rising from the sea.

Becky stingray pic

That’s the face of pure and utter joy. Standing in a tropical lagoon, crystal clear as a swimming pool, as sting rays and reef sharks cruise all around us and swim up our shoulders to say hello. Sure, they’re probably looking for food. But I like to think this one really liked me for me.

More to come…

The Machines Between Us

I almost got into a car accident yesterday. I turn left while a monstrosity of an SUV doesn’t realize there are two left-hand turn lanes. He blindly pulls into my lane, mid turn. Luckily traffic moves slow, giving him enough time to realize he is about to pummel my little red car quivering in his shadow. Rather than quickly pull away and drive off, the guy stops, refusing to move forward. The way our cars are now positioned prevents me from driving away as well. He wedges me in. He looks at me — an austere older gentleman with white hair and oils of entitlement seeping out of the pores on his nose, one wrist casually resting on the wheel of his car, the other cradling his chin like a philosopher. I make a stinky face at him and gesture for him to drive away. He doesn’t. I try an exasperated face. He doesn’t. His face doesn’t change. I realize he wants to talk. Why I wonder? His face betrays nothing — as stern as a judge. One of two things could happen. 1) He will try to blame this near accident on me, or 2) He will try to hit on me. He proceeds to roll down his window, giving the universal signal that he wants me to do the same. I oblige. “What?” I demand.

“Why you do this?” he asks with a thick but unidentifiable European accent.

“Why did I do this?” I reply with surprisingly firm incredulity. I add sarcasm. “Umm, I didn’t do this, sir. This is my lane to turn into. You pulled into MY lane.” I say the last bit like the world’s worst kindergarten teacher talking down to a child who can’t follow directions. I demean. I condescend. His face remains changeless, which surprises me. It’s at this point the opponent should respond with a tactic of either defense or offense. Daggers are met with daggers or bigger swords. But his face doesn’t change. He is neither defensive nor combative.

“Oh. Sorry,” he responds, lifting his hand away from his chin and raising his palm to me in a gesture of deference. No sarcasm, no strings. Okay, wow, he admits he is wrong. This is a first. Okay. I guess this is over. He’ll drive away now.

He doesn’t. At this point we’re blocking oncoming traffic. Cars honk voraciously, but neither my surprise nor the incessant honking do anything to change his face. What does he want now? Is this the point where he starts hitting on me? That can be the only other explanation for what else this man in a giant SUV could possibly want from me.

“I’m sorry,” he says again. He looks me in the eyes when he says it. He makes sure to look me in the eyes. I can’t help but soften. When he almost hit me that thing happened. You know the thing. The thing where the angst of the modern-driver melds with the primal instinct of defense. This is the alchemy that produces road rage, and a moment ago it gripped me. But he looks me in the eye, not to threaten me, not to chastise me, not to hit on me. To say he is sorry. To say he is wrong, made a mistake, and is sorry. To say he is human.

I have no idea if this white-haired ambiguously European man in a giant car intends to do all of these things with his eye contact. I have no idea at all why he responds the way he does.

But he does.

He looks me in the eyes and that simple contact tames my primal-meets-modern road rager. Our eye contact flips my empathy back on.

After a few strange moments of this he finally drives away, and I am so taken aback that my little rage monster inside tries desperately to rear it’s ugly head one last time. “Maybe get a smaller car next time!” I yell at him as he drives away. Not the worst combination of words to throw at a person, but a split-second later they make me feel more terrible than I’ve felt in a long time. It is mean. This man appeals to my humanity. He is not necessarily kind or generous, and he does indeed have a car that is much too big for non-giants, but he does something powerful. He breaks down the machines between us. And I am mean.

I’m not a mean person. Snarky? Yes. Sarcastic? Sure. Sassy? Preferably. But mean? I don’t believe in mean. Anger has its place, as does rage and despair and a myriad other “dark” emotions. To be mean to each other appeals to the lowest common denominator. To be mean is to erode another person’s humanity. The damage is grave on both sides.

When I get behind the wheel of my car and I feel someone has crossed me, I like being mean. At least I think I do. The rage monster has told me I do.

Today’s morning commute continues the theme of “let’s cut Rebecca off.” Car after car pull right in front of me driving about 10-15 miles per hour slower, forcing me to do the act despised by driver’s worldwide — put my foot on the brake. One car in particular drives me crazy (pun intended). A green Lexus (ugh, Lexus) in the fast lane carelessly slows down to 55 mph, then speeds up to 75 when I try to pass, then slows again for no apparent reason, rendering it impossible to get around. My primal road monster takes form once again and I am pissed. I finally get a chance to pass this green Lexus. Yes! Now I can give the driver a dirty look as I pass. I’ll show her. I put on my best stink face and make my move. I am going to punish you good! I turn my head. The driver is a woman, early forties, and she is sad. I can’t tell whether she is crying or not, but I can tell that her mind is full of darkness and it’s taking everything she’s got to focus on driving.

My road monster has convinced me she is slowing and speeding to be a jerk. To piss me off. To prevent me from passing. Me me me. All cars drive the way they do to make my life difficult, right? Because they are all jerks and idiots. My road monster is wrong, however powerful. She got some bad news this morning. Or maybe her car is driving funny and she doesn’t have the money to fix it. She’s thinking about the kids she has to feed, or the ailing parent she has to care for, or the spouse who doesn’t understand. She’s taking her beloved cat, who is sick in the back seat, to the vet, wondering if this will be their last trip together. She speeds to get there quicker. She slows to soothe her cat. She’s driving away from an unsafe situation, or driving to an unsafe situation. She is thinking about the dead Syrian child on the shores of Hungary. She had a nightmare she can’t shake. She is sure her boss is about to fire her. She is chronically depressed. She is human.

What is it about the machines we build between us that isolate our best parts of ourselves from each other? These machines should simply be tools but they so easily become weapons of cruelty. Why do we forget so easily that we are all human, and we are struggling? These machines are not just shields, they are instigators. They can not only block our empathy but invite the monsters out to play. I see it clearly in the meanness that erupts out of me only when I drive. I see it in the comment of every troll on the internet. The horrible, cruel, racist, sexist, derogatory things that people type into their handheld machines and send through the cyber-machine to reach the rage monster coming from the other side. When did we forget that at the other end of that other machine is a human being?

I love technology. I love social media. I love cars. These things in and of themselves are amoral and require drivers — human drivers. We must captain our technology with our empathy. If we don’t, the primal monsters of indifference and rage will gladly take the reins.

And you know the truly wonderful thing about empathy? It can’t be machinized. It is supremely human and sacred. It can only be seen in the look on a struggling woman’s face. It can only be heard in the sound of a desperate child. It can only be understood when two sets of eyes meet, beyond the machines, and invite each other in. It’s magical. Don’t you want to live by magic?

Get out of your machine today. Look each other in the eyes. Even the worst of all jerks has to take his beloved cat to the vet for the last time. Try to understand.

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The Gift of Falling Flat on Your Face

Not too long ago I was having a great day. Like a really great day. A great week actually. Felt like I could conquer the world. Then I did something stupid. I won’t provide specifics surrounding the series of awesomeness followed by humiliation. Sorry, I know you’re dying to know but the truth is I’m not interested in reliving it in perpetuity on my blog. Let’s just boil it down to feelings, which is what matters here. I was devastated. Then I was pissed. What the hell! How can the universe be so kind and in the blink of an eye so incredibly cruel? I felt like this:

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This is a still from a video I posted on Facebook yesterday. As you might have guessed, this runner falls down. It’s rather devastating, as you may also have guessed. This is not what’s appealing about the video. It is, in fact, one of the most incredible visual metaphors I’ve ever come across. Watch the whole thing:

What is incredible about this event is not that the runner fell down and got back up and won the race (which is kind of mind-blowing btw). What is really incredible about the message here is that she won BECAUSE she fell down. Now, before you draft an argumentative comment, of course I don’t know that for sure. Would she have won without falling down? Maybe. But probably not. You can see it happen. Falling down gave her the jolt of adrenaline, of anger, of determination to win, that she otherwise would not have felt had she kept with the pack. The girl that clipped her in the foot probably felt so thrown off and embarrassed that it threw off HER game and allowed fallen girl to get up and gain a lead. The other runners probably assumed she was out when she went down, and didn’t in a million years see her coming to dominate at the last minute. This chain of events that started with her falling flat on her face provided a series of gifts that allowed her to win. It’s incredible. She had to fall down to win.

That’s the narrative I see in this video. You might take away something different but isn’t that the incredible thing about a story? Good stories contain layers of meaning that we get to peel off, try on, and see what fits best on our souls and minds. This video arrived on my Facebook feed with the utmost synchronicity. I had metaphorically fallen flat on my face a mere 48 hours prior, and I needed to see this. Failure will come to all of us and we must recognize it as a gift — an opportunity to reap just the exact emotions and motivation we need to win.

After I “fell” I sat in my car and cried. I didn’t want my wonderful week to end this way. It wasn’t fair. Someone! Somewhere! Change this! Much to my chagrin, no deus ex machina came down from above to change my circumstances. I was on my own. So I turned on my voice recorder app on my phone. I talked it out. I purged everything I was feeling. I needed to record it because talking to myself wouldn’t get it out fully. There has to be someone listening, even if that someone is an electronic chip in my smartphone. It makes a difference.  My fall gave me humility, determination, anger, and empowerment. Invaluable gifts made worthless if I remain face down on the ground. I stand up, and I keep running. I want to use these gifts. I know that life isn’t really a competition, but I still hope that I win.

What Running Taught Me About Body Positivity… It’s All In the Mind

The prompt for National Running Day was “I run to _____.” I actually just had a little wave of anxiety as I typed, thinking about sharing the reasons that I run. The reasons are deeply personal, however publicly I talk about running. Personal, and innumerable, so maybe I’ll try to distill it all down to one basic idea. I run to connect my body to my soul.

I grew up an incredibly confident girl on the inside, with incredible self-loathing for her outsides. I hated my body. Hate is a strong word. Not strong enough. I developed at a young age in all the wrong ways according to a hormonal pre-teen. Big butt, thick thighs, flat chest. Boys didn’t like me, girls didn’t relate to me. I wasn’t athletic. I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t necessarily fat either. I was the word I’ve come to hate more than almost any in the English language – chubby. I was chubby. And it’s not cool to be chubby as a kid.

So I grew up hating my outsides and wishing for new ones, while simultaneously loving life, being social, feeling creative and insightful, and in general enjoying the human soul that was developing as Becky Sigl. I was very conscious of this strange dichotomy. How could I be so confident and so insecure at the same time? Mind-body disconnect. You’ve all felt it.

Along came running. I began running as early as 6th grade but didn’t stick with it in earnest until my college years. During that time I felt more pressure than ever to somehow achieve the body that I THOUGHT would match my awesome inside self (don’t believe everything you think). Safe in my college incubation bubble, I knew that once thrust into the “real world” the clock began. It’s tough for women in Hollywood and if you don’t jump in the Hollywood Double Dutch game when you’re a kid, then you better be ready again when you’re a young twenty-something still young enough to play high school and college. If you miss THAT turnoff and you’re not “smokin’ hot” or super charactery then you may as well wait around until you’re old enough to play the Mom. I realize I sound very cynical and no one is obligated to subscribe to these silly rules. You can pave your own way and you should! But the pressure. It’s brutal.

So there I was, 21, getting ready for the real world, and I thought to myself constantly “I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight.” The only time I didn’t think these thoughts was on the running trail. Interesting. I didn’t all of a sudden feel satisfied with my body. I just didn’t give a crap. I was running.

Along comes the real world and wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t magically transform into a 5’10” lithe supermodel or a cute little pixie girl in a size zero. Huh. Go figure. The real world arrived nonetheless and I started to realize how much I truly disliked this game of Hollywood Double Dutch. But I thought I’d still play anyway. I’d still attempt to achieve a body that would match my awesome, spunky, confident, inner self – still repeating the mantra “I have to lose weight” – I started running more consistently.

A funny and unexpected thing happened. I fell in love with my body. The body that in the past 10 years has run 13 half marathons, one marathon, and 2,000 miles to Tahiti. That body. The body that is actually 15 pounds HEAVIER than it was 10 years ago when I started running to lose weight! I love that body. I love it so fiercely. Sure I get a little itchy when I feel a few pounds of new jiggle after the holidays or if I haven’t run for awhile, but I still love the jiggle, however unwelcome. I love it deeply because I’m grateful for it. I know what it can do.

In college I took a philosophy course that focused heavily on the ideas of Iris Murdoch. One of our textbooks was “The Sovereignty of Good.” (I highly recommend it). It is the act of focusing on the Good – art, service, love – that effectuates transcendence. This focusing and taking action lures us outside ourselves. You can’t simply try to be grateful as effectively as when you focus on giving to others which results in a sense of gratitude. You can’t try to understand humanity as well as seeing a great play – the pathos of which evokes an understanding of humanity as a result. A focus on good things brings about Good. The actions make us Good. It’s not so easy to be good for Goodness’ sake. Someone alert Santa.

I couldn’t try to love my body in a vacuum. I just couldn’t. I did try. Hard! I simply did not love it. 10 years of running consistently – focusing my mind on something healthy and active instead of the outcome on my appearance – changed me. It works this way in acting. You want to get out of your own head? Focus on your scene partner. What are you doing to him? Do it. Voila! No more in your head. So too with body positivity as it turns out. You want to love your body? Focus on doing things with it. Be active. Put your body to work. You’ll discover that it’s Good, EXACTLY as it is.

I started running because my 6th grade teacher told me to. I stuck with it in high school and college to try and lose weight, when I suddenly realized it had this potent by-product of making me feel sane. I keep running today not to love my body, but because I love my body. Running, as it turns out, is the bridge between my sparkly, glitter-spackled, spunky, soulful, introspective, confident, awesome, self and the physical vessel I was given to get through life – my body. You get one boat to sail the ocean. Don’t scuttle it. Name it. Take care of it. Decorate it. Love it. Have fun sailing.
I run to connect my soul to my body. I run because it’s spiritual. I run because it’s physical. I run to get out of my head. I run to focus on the Good.

Why do you run?

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Little Facts That Make Me

Do you ever stop and think about all of the tiny idiosyncrasies that make us who we are? It’s pretty extraordinary. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been writing more fiction lately and character development is top of my mind, but lately these funny little Becky-isms have strongly come into focus. The last play at Theatre of NOTE, Niagara Falls, (one of my all-time faves) was largely about identity. There was a part at the end of the play where one of the characters remembers who she is suddenly and she’s overwhelmed by little details, like her enjoyment of eating grapes in the grocery store. I love that. It’s really the little oddities that make us. I thought perhaps I’d make a similar list, if nothing else but for posterity. If ever I need to recall myself, this should help:

I like walking down the street reading a book.

I hate driving behind buses. Not just because they stop all the time, but it’s so hard to see and feels claustrophobic.

I love sunrises more than sunsets but hate getting up early despite how much I love the morning-time so I’ve learned to love sunsets even though the moment right after makes me very blue.

I love peeling clementines. The way the peel comes off so easily, it’s like opening a present.

I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it aired but this year I discovered it and now I’m kind of obsessed. I really really really want to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I tend to be a somewhat messy person when it comes to housekeeping but I’m very anal about crumbs on the table in restaurants. I will clean up all of the crumbs. Servers love me.

Once I was sitting on a bench reading in the McKinley Park Rose Garden in Sacramento, and two photography students asked if they could take my picture because I looked somehow romantic. That still may be the best compliment I’ve ever received. Wish I had that picture.

I have a very true and serious dislike for speaking on the telephone. It’s probably cost me friends over the years but honestly the thought of it makes my skin itch. Nothing to do with the person I want/need/should speak to. It’s a fear of the medium itself. I think it’s an introvert thing, which brings me to…

I’m a massive introvert. I don’t think people believe me when I say that because I’m generally gregarious and not horrible at speaking in front of large groups of people. I am though. I go inward, not outward. I think you can tell what you are by getting stoned. I don’t smoke pot anymore but when I did, if I smoked too much, I literally lost the ability to speak. My mind would go so inward that I’d lose the function of speaking to other humans, animals, or even inanimate objects. I think if you smoke pot and go outward, getting super chatty and interactive, then you know you’re an extrovert. So yeah, the marijuana test will tell you which way your mind is pointed. You heard it here first.

When I first started dating my now husband, within two weeks I knew I would marry him. I remember sitting in the car after a date and he paused in the middle of a sentence. I had no idea what he was going to say but the lead-up sounded like a question and then he paused. I remember repeating over and over in my head “ask me to marry you, ask me to marry you, ask me to marry you.” It’s like I couldn’t control it. A chorus in my brain. The rational half of me thought later “What are you nuts? You’ve been dating for two weeks!” My heart was just screaming it though. It only took five years after that to get engaged. The rational part of me is in fact very strong, but the heart wins.

My wedding day truly was the happiest day of my life. The cliche is true.

I don’t like shoes with bows on them unless the bow is big and silky or hard and sparkly.

I love horror movies to a level you could describe as addiction. I can’t get enough. There aren’t enough great horror movies in the world to satiate my need. Make horror movies! I’ll watch them!

When I was in first grade I won a writing contest at my school and was chosen to read my story in front of the entire student body. I remember exactly what the story was about but have since lost the text. My dream is to rewrite that story and have it published, but I’m scared.

I love being a blonde. When I finally started highlighting my hair blonde I felt like I discovered an important part of my identity. Hair holds a lot of power.

The other hair color that I feel may be part of my true identity is red. I’ve always wanted to be a redhead, but I made the mistake once of telling Brad that I’d heard a statistic on Stuff You Should Know that women who dye their hair red often want to cheat on their significant others, so now I can never dye my hair red for fear he’ll misinterpret my motivation. Oh bother. Beware the information you share.

I love good bluegrass almost as much as I love horror movies. Especially when they play at farmer’s markets on Sundays. Bluegrass bands, not horror movies. Though that would be interesting.

I love westerns almost as much as I love bluegrass and horror movies. If someone could please make a horror film set in the wild west with a bluegrass soundtrack, that would be my favorite movie.

Our wedding had a Victorian Western theme. Because I love it to so much. My husband looks hot with a pocket watch and a cravat.

Although I love Victorian and Western aesthetics, I haven’t adopted the steampunk look. Perhaps because that veers into nerd culture, and I don’t feel a part of that.

In my heart I feel like a mermaid, but I get horribly seasick. It’s tragic. So really I’m more like a fairy. I belong in the woods. Hmm, a fairy who wishes she were a mermaid perhaps. Interesting story.

I love The Beatles in a way that’s hard to talk about.

I swear that I remember when Princess Diana married Prince Charles, even though I wasn’t born yet. This makes me consider reincarnation.

I was a vegetarian for 12 years, and although I’ve started to eat a bit of meat (free-range, humane as possible), I have the heart of a vegetarian and I miss identifying as one. I mourn my lost vegetarianism, but the occasional steaks and turkey sandwiches are delicious.

I can be really dumb sometimes, and really smart others. I’m just as surprised as anyone when one or the other strikes me.

I wish I could download a better vocabulary into my brain. Having more words is like having more colors on your palette. But my palette is my brain and it’s terrible at remembering.

I love naming things. I love names. When I backpacked through Europe I collected rocks from every country I visited and I named them all. The rocks. Mostly I gave them Euro-centric names like Octavius and Bernard. I even named the shag rug I bought from IKEA for my freshman college dorm room. His name was Rupert.

I love quotes more than I love names, but sometimes I’m sad that I love quotes so much because the truth is I love them because I feel like everyone else can say what I’m feeling better than I can, and then I realize that my love of quotes is a response to my insecurities as a writer.

I think too much.

When it comes to color I’m like a moth to flame. I have very strong emotional reactions to different colors. I could spend hours in an art supplies store, paint swatch section of Home Depot, makeup and nail polish aisles just staring and loving all the different colors.

I organize my clothes hanging in the closet by the colors of the rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. It makes sense to me.

I think that’s enough for now. This will be an ongoing list. Hopefully by exercising this desire to document my personal idiosyncrasies, I’ll get better at making them up for the characters I create. Like the blonde rainbow fairy who lives at the top of Temescal Canyon, looking out at the sea wishing she were a red-headed mermaid. Hey, start with what you know, right?

If you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear some facts that make YOU. Please share!

What Running a Marathon Taught Me About Coping

Yesterday I had a panic attack. My heart raced. I broke into a sweat and felt like I couldn’t breathe. The attack hit me out of nowhere. Pretty sure I actually muttered to myself “Oh my, what’s this? What’s happening to me?”

It’s not that I’ve never had a panic attack before. I’m all too familiar with the phenomenon. It’s just that for me they are almost always preceded by some direct and identifiable psychological turmoil, but lately I’ve been y’know, happy. I suppose I could connect the dots. Stressful week at work? An unfamiliar feeling of optimistic ambition relating to my writing career? (I’ve never been so pro-active about a personal goal and while it’s all very exciting, there’s a scared little girl inside me no doubt trying to shake me up out of fear of failure.) Ongoing family crisis? (Which is currently a sleeping dragon but I’m waiting for it to wake up again.) Maybe I just let my blood sugar get too low. There are truly any number of things that could trigger an anxiety attack but none of them have been front line lately so it surprised me to experience a physical manifestation of the fears. Whatever the reason, panic took hold.

I’ve never been great about dealing with these pesky attacks. I suppose that by definition they encroach your senses beyond reason, so an inability to deal sensibly is kind of the point. This has always been inconvenient as it’s forced me to rely on the support of others to get by. I’d call my mom or my step-dad and they’d talk me off the edge. These days my husband fills the role nicely, holding me and loving me until even the panic feels cozy and at home. While it’s crucial  to have people in your life who can save you in a crisis, self-reliance is something for which I always strive.

And that’s where the marathon enters the picture.

Running the Walt Disney World Marathon left me with innumerable life lessons, but perhaps the lesson that surprised me the most was a deepening of the phrase “it gets better.” Sometime around mile 14 things got really hard, and I thought to myself “Oh crap, if it’s this hard now how am I going to survive 12 more miles?” The logic being that an increase in distance should correlate to an increase in fatigue and thus difficulty. Logically speaking running a marathon would look something like this:

Marathon HillIt makes sense right? The longer you run the harder it gets? See, though, here’s the thing about endurance running. It doesn’t really make sense. Does it make sense to train for four straight months at the expense of a clean house, social life, and free time? Not really. Does it make sense to pay $200 to do something you could theoretically do on your own for free? Not really. Does it make sense to voluntarily put yourself in pain or at the very least extreme discomfort for 4-6 hours straight? Definitely not. Nothing about marathon running makes sense, including the experience of running it.

So there I am at mile 14, incredibly concerned that if it’s this hard now I simply won’t be able to finish. A funny thing happened. I just kept running, and it got better. It gets better.

Then it got hard again, and better, and really hard, then easy, then impossible, then doable, then great, then transcendent, then I finished. So running a marathon actually looks more like this:

Marathon realnessHow can mile 20 be easier than mile 14? And what kind of sense does it make for mile 5 to be harder than mile 25? No sense at all. That’s long-distance running for you. Reason #673 why running is a giant metaphor for life. It does get better. But then it gets hard again.

The It Gets Better campaign is beautiful, and important. In the darkest hour we all need someone to look in our eyes and promise that it DOES get better. It does. But let’s talk realness for a sec. It will probably get hard again. Really hard. And then it will get better. Undoubtedly. Life is not a long walk up hill. It’s a marathon. It’s the high school mile being harder than the college mile. It’s the quarter-life mile being harder than the thirty-something mile. It’s the family mile being easier than the work mile and oh, wait a minute, now the family mile is the hardest yet. Each challenge paid off with a nice stretch of joy. The joy inevitably followed by a new challenge. Somewhere there is a finish line that makes it all worth it.

Even once we’ve finished the marathon, we’ll probably do another one. We’ll get right back on the course of ups and downs. Extreme highs and lows. We’ll cope. Because it doesn’t make sense, a marathon or life. The one thing you can count on is that it will change, and for better or worse you’ll be wiser once you’ve endured.

I highly recommend running a marathon to exercise this radical unpredictability of life. It’s cathartic. Years of emotional ups and downs will be condensed for you into a 5 hour physical metaphor that you can take with you into the big, bad, beautiful, chaotic world. You will know in your muscles and bones what it feels like to cope, to endure, and to be rewarded with a strange sort of peace. (Which you will forever project onto the medal they hand you at the finish line. You will cherish that cheaply made trinket endlessly. God help the poor soul who ever tries to take my bling away!)

Last night I’m lying in bed, my husband sleeping peacefully next to me. I’m fitful, fighting the remains of this pesky panic attack. My insides feel dark blue, my thoughts are glum, my breath is shallow. I read. I watch TV. I try to breathe in calm and exhale chaos. It’s not really working. I’m in it, a tough mile. But I think back to the marathon. I think about how mile 25 was easier than mile 5. Suddenly I feel, not calm, but confident. It will get better. I will also have another panic attack someday. I will cope.

Now it’s tomorrow. You know what? This mile feels great. It’s a beautiful day with no panic in sight. It got better. For now. And that’s enough to keep me running.

Mile 25. On top of the world.

Mile 25. On top of the world.

Patience, not-so-young Grasshopper

I’m too impatient to think of a clever way to begin this post. Gah! So impatient! The cat is out of the bag. I’m impatient. It’s a toxic state of mind. The overwhelming desire to have something extraordinary happen overnight often thwarts the possibility of that extraordinary something happening over time. This is why it’s essential to enjoy and take meaning from the journey. Not because it’s so wise, because it’s 95% of the process. You may as well enjoy it. You can’t drive from California to New York overnight, so if you don’t find pleasure in staring out your window at the Oklahoma prairie or Missouri’s rolling hills, it’s going to be a long and painful drive. Learn to savor the journey; something I’m discovering about my endeavors as a children’s book author.

Earlier this year I actually, truly, really, actively, once-and-for-all began taking steps toward becoming a published children’s picture book author. I’d dreamed of such a thing since I was 6 years old, but other than a library of ideas messily cataloged in my brain I’d never pursued it. All that changed with the new year. Knowing NOTHING about the publishing industry I began with as rudimentary a step as possible. I bought Writing Children’s Books for Dummies. Hello, dummy. *Proudly points to self*

Not even knowing how to format a manuscript properly, I needed the basics. It’s actually quite a good book. I recommend it for publishing preschoolers like me.

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I read this book. I joined Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I launched a personal website. I finished my first manuscript. I researched publishing houses accepting unsolicited material. I wrote a cover letter. I signed up for my first conference. I’m ready now! Do you hear me universe! I’m ready, so can this happen now? Oh universe, I know YOU waited patiently for 30 years for me to accept this as my life’s calling, but now that I’m ready let’s do this thing.

I don’t know if writing for children has led me to think like a child, but I am impatient with a capital I. Impatient. IMpatient.

So what has led to this impatience? Well I’ll tell you. Obstacles. There are numerous itchy realities that have put a little bee in my bonnet since I started actively writing. Here are the discouraging things I’ve learned since I’ve gotten myself in the game.

On average it takes 3-6 months for a publisher to respond to your manuscript submission. Most responses will be a rejection.

Many publishers require an exclusive submission so while you’re waiting SIX MONTHS for them to read your three page manuscript you can’t really even submit it to anyone else. This isn’t always the case but SOMETIMES. SOMETIMES!

If and when a publisher wants to buy your manuscript, which you can almost guarantee won’t happen with the first submission, it will then take 18+ months (at least) for your book to be paired with an illustrator, art directed, produced, and published. It can and does take years.

Once your beautiful book baby is born and there you are on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, unless you’re among the incredibly rare breed of New York Times bestselling picture book authors, your book will probably go out of print in 2 years and you’ll net maybe $5,000 of royalties once you make back your advance. It will most likely be 10-15 years before you’ve published enough books to quit your day job and write full time.

So here I am, eager as a little beaver for my life to begin, and all I see are obstacles and “Turn Back Now” signs. I’m not old, but I’m not young either. I’m considering children in a few years. I’d like to start saving for a home, and for kid’s education, and for retirement. I want my life to begin NOW. Now, do you hear me universe? I’m ready! Do I really have to wait years for my three-page manuscript to make it to bookshelves, if it ever makes it at all? There are no guarantees. This could all be for naught. I could be a hack. I could be delusional. I can’t wait years to find that out.

I’m realizing I’m at this point in the story:

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There are many things I don’t know but I’m fairly certain of one thing. For the first time in my life I feel that I’m on the right path. I’ve started my journey down that path feeling prepared and enthused, only to now come across a chasm of unknowns, of long periods of waiting, of inconveniences and obstacles. There are signs that say “Wait here for 6 months, then proceed… maybe,” and others that read “Please pay $500 to advance,” while still others read “Congrats, you’ve earned $5,000! Now make that last for three years!”

A famous actor can indeed make millions. As can a famous author. However the majority of actors are not famous. They work. They struggle. They hustle to make $2,000 for one week on a show they don’t even really like that much and pray they’ll make enough money in their careers for health insurance and maybe a pension. It’s hard. For most, it’s very hard, so if you don’t love it, if Jiminy Cricket isn’t whispering in your ear, “Yes, this is right,” then maybe don’t do it.

Who knew writing would be just as challenging? Well, probably everyone who ever tried to be a writer, but hey I’m new at this. The difference now is Jiminy Cricket is talking to me. I’m starting to sound a little crazy but you know what I mean. It’s there! Some sort of warm omniscient speaking heart telling me that it will all be worth it somehow. This is my story. This is my path.

Okay. I accept. I will wait. I will make the leap. I will stay on the path no matter how hairy it gets. I will employ patience by enjoying the view from the window of this moving train. And while I wait, I’ll keep writing. I’ll see what I see out the window and it will inspire me and I’ll write it down. Even if I’m never published and they line my coffin with rejection letters from Random House, someone will one day clean out my desk and they’ll find what I wrote and they’ll say “Hey, look what she did.”

Hey, look what I did. Look what I’m doing. All you need is patience, young grasshopper.

Or should I say… cricket.

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