Monday, December 12, 2011

50,000 Words...

Towards the end of October on a Sunday morning at the Unicorn café in Evanston, a man walked up to me as my mouth was full of granola, my hand holding a pen, and my brain was wishing the caffeine from my coffee would make it’s way through my body a little faster. I was trying to find words to turn into sentences for my usual journaling adventure. This is typically how this man finds me upon his sporadic, brief visits to my table. I forget his name but every now and then, he walks up to me and asks how my writing is going when my mouth is full and the words won’t come.
“How’s it going?” he asked, nodding toward my motionless hand.
I nod, swallow and say. “Good.”
“Have you heard about NanoWriMo?”
“Nope.” I said having no idea what he just asked.
“It’s a writing challenge where you write fifty thousand words in thirty days. You should try it.”
Immediately I jotted down the website vowing to look it up when I got to work. I thanked him and he walked away as fast as he appeared.
When I got to work and looked up this challenge I remembered that I wanted to do it last year but had missed the entire thing. A client of mine completed it last year and is currently still working on editing what she wrote. When I asked her how she did it, she said that every spare minute was spent writing.
“The point is to get it all down. You can always go back and edit it.” she reminded me. The perfectionist part of me hates this. She does not believe in rough drafts but in perfect first drafts which don’t exist so I never actually produce anything.
Five years ago I completed a book of short stories that I started when I was about twenty two. I had wanted to write a book since beginning my journey as a stylist but never got around to starting. One day, a couple of years after thinking about writing I had a beast of a client sit in my chair and bitch slap my soul in such a way that when I got home the only way for me to deal was to turn the computer on and let my fingers fly across the keyboard.
To the computer, I got to say what I wanted to say to this miserable idiot and it was glorious. I made myself laugh as I wrote, and felt lighter and happier. From that day forward I was hooked. I wrote constantly. Nothing felt better than writing after a day of lunatics. (well…writing and cookies…) I got to tell my side, say what I truly wanted to say and since it was all stored on my computer I didn’t have to cuss anyone out to their faces.
After Rob died, I got to see a whole new side of people and a whole new side of myself that I had not met before. Mostly people were unbelievably, overwhelmingly kind, and loving. There were a few sprinkled in that I wanted to punch in the face and some that didn’t know I was even dating anyone so it was extra special hard to keep the “happy face” on and pretend that I didn’t have a huge gaping hole where I once housed a kind of love that I didn’t know was possible.
Of course this prompted me to write even more. Since then I’ve bounced around the idea of combining my first book of short stories with the events of the last five years. Upon hearing about NanoWriMo I decided this was my opportunity to simply try and see what happens. I signed up immediately and waited for November first to roll around.
I shared my desire for this adventure with a client days before leaving for Atlanta to run the marathon and she said she had a few friends do it.
“You learn so much!” she exclaimed. “Your story and “voice” will change two, possibly three times but know that it’s all ok and part of the process. You have to write through all of it, allow it to happen and once the month is up, go back over it and see if there is anything you may actually want to use.”
This seemed like an awful lot of work. My “voice” is something I’ve been looking to find for some time now. I never really look too hard for it because it’s exhausting and my ideas seem to change so much while I’m writing. I don’t have a lot of patience but decide that I can dedicate one month of my life to this and see what happens. I may love it or hate it but either way, I need to do it to know.
I read through the Nano website and found that I needed to write a minimum of 1,667 words a day. There was a calendar posted with Chicago “Write-ins” where people meet up and spend a few hours writing together, challenging each other to word sprints. (word sprints are challenges where you write as many words as you can in “X” amount of time.) There was also a Nano Facebook page which I also promptly joined.
Off I went on November first, writing before and during my commute to work. I hand wrote as much as I could while on the train. I didn’t really know where I’d start. I had no actual plan, no outline, just a bunch of words that wanted me to try on to see what would happen. When I let go and waited for the words to come to me instead of forcing them or squeezing them out, it was practically effortless. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to produce the 1,667 words each day. I tried for more on my days off totaling three to five thousand words on those days.
Looking ahead I found that by November 15th, I would need about 25,000 words. I had a couple of days where I only wrote a few hundred words, hence my need for those three to five thousand word days. Plus Thanksgiving was happening and I would be in Florida visiting my mom’s family and doubted much would get done. I started getting up earlier, making coffee at home, and writing as much as I could before work. By November 13th, I had the 25,000 words.
I still had no idea what I was writing about. I had no clear direction or focus. The main character is a stressed out stylist in a long distance relationship and is finding herself desperate to leave the city she’s in for someplace new. I imagined separating the book in three parts. Part One would be the insanity of the character’s life as she knows it and would end in some kind of tragedy. Part two finds the character living in her new city, co-habiting with a man she doesn’t love and flashing back to what she had and Part three would be the shining light of finding new love, and a more fulfilling position at work.
At least that’s where I thought I would go with it. At 25,000 words though, I found myself wanting to switch from writing in first person to third person for some reason. I tried it and discovered my protagonist to be dull and lifeless. That lasted for only a single page before I switched back to first person. I also decided this wasn’t the time to be doing something that I was slower than normal at. I found that everyone on the “ChiWriMo” Facebook page was reminding each other, “December is for editing” so I kept at it in the first person, saving that single page to still add to my word count. This was also so I could remember that I could change anything at anytime.
While I wrote I kept a notebook with me always. I calculated how many words I had left to go each day and jotted down notes I wanted to remember for my characters, things I wanted to research and notes to myself either venting or reminding myself that I only had to write a little bit that day. I didn’t have to do all 50,000 words in one day. I had day where I decided not to write at all. I needed a break from the whole thing. I felt a little stale and the words weren’t coming as quickly as they once were. I did my best to trust that I would have a spurt of creativity eventually but it wasn’t happening at the moment I needed it to so I busied myself with other things.
I found a “write in” one Sunday afternoon in the Loop and joined six other writers in various word sprints and a little sharing about our lives and our novels in a small café. The energy of being with all these people alone was enough to fuel my three hours of almost non stop writing. There was no procrastination or distraction, just the silent support of like minded people with a similar goal. I really wanted to find a writing group for when this was all said and done to continue the experience.
My laptop accompanied me on my trip to Jacksonville Florida to see my family. I worked a little but didn‘t keep track of how much I was writing. On my flight back to Chicago, I worked more than I had during the two previous days.
I hit a wall so to speak with a week left to go. I felt I had too much to write in too little time. I was tired and still quite confused as to what I was actually going to end up with. My book would not have an ending at fifty thousand words. I dropped the idea of having the story be split into three parts and also decided to drop the relationship I had my character invested in. This of course created a huge divide in what I had written already and the direction I was now going in. Again, December is for editing right?
I wrote through the damn wall I felt myself hit, remembering the marathon, getting to sixteen miles and freaking out a little but doing it anyway, just to see how far I could go. I have an unfortunate tendency to start things with great enthusiasm only to have them taper off toward the end point or simply losing steam altogether and never finishing. I really didn’t want this to be one of those times. I took another twenty four hour break and got back to it.
On Sunday November 27th, with three days left to go, I found myself at Intelligentisa in the back corner of the café finding out I had nine thousand words left to go. The thought crossed my mind that I could essentially do it all today. I was off of work and had no plans. Jeff was working until five that afternoon. I wanted to spend some time with him and figured that I would work on this project until five, see where I was at, hang out with him then get back to it before bed.
I wrote a thousand words before I posted on the “ChiWriMo” Facebook wall that I was at Intelli and if anyone was up early, and wanted to join me, come on by. I needed some support. Within minutes this woman Connie responded and said that she would be there in twenty.
Connie’s personality is bright and bubbly. I immediately like her and was thrilled to have her company. We did a couple of word sprints after she caughtup to me in her caffeine consumption. I feel incredibly focused despite the busyness of the café and general noise of the espresso machine and the music playing. The longer we stay the more determined I was to finish.
“I think I’m going to go down the street to the SAIC teacher’s lounge. It’s quieter there. Do you wanna come?” Connie asked. She’s a math teacher and yes, something quiet sounds good.
“I do!” I exclaimed and we packed up.
It was cold and drizzly outside. I felt grateful that it wasn’t some bright sun shining afternoon so I didn’t feel guilty for staying in all day. Beautiful days where it’s fabulous enough to enjoy being outside are rare in Chicago and I always hate being indoors when graced with gorgeous weather.
Connie and I got up to the teacher’s lounge and spread out. My notebooks were splayed out on a round table I’m sitting at and my computer is next to them. We’ve dragged over comfy desk chairs from a computer and desk lined wall instead of the smaller chairs that were at the table originally. We do a couple of word sprints before Connie moves to another table to charge her laptop. We’re quiet for about an hour before she pipes up and says she’s going to 7Eleven. For whatever reason I’m craving junk food and walk over there with her. I buy a small bag of banana chips, a Snickers bar and a bag of peanut butter M&M’s for reasons I can’t seem to understand.
Connie grabbed two giant burritos.
Once back in the room and at our respective desks we get back to work. I had all of my purchases laid out on my notebook and was writing in between taking bites of this or that. Connie is doing the same while updating me on the whereabouts of the CTA “write-in”. A group of writers boarded the CTA brown line earlier and were writing together until the end of the line before turning around and coming back. One girl was updating Connie on where they were so she could post it to Facebook. I had wanted to do this one but was ultimately glad I stayed put.
At 4:10pm, I moved over to a couch and calculated the words I left to write before I hit 50,000. I nearly lost my mind when I saw it was only 816. I texted Jeff to see where he wanted to meet up and to share my word count. He wanted to meet back at Intelligentsia at 5:15pm. If I wrote fast enough, I could totally do this.
For the next hour I wrote as fast as I could while still coming up with actual sentences that meant something and were conducive to the story of course. I couldn’t believe how fast it was happening. There was no time or space for my inner critic to pipe up and shoot down whatever I was writing. Oddly enough, I was pleased with everything I had come up with so far.
I hit my goal of 50,000 words just after 5pm. The final word count was 50,022. I smiled at the computer screen before snatching my phone and texting Jeff.
“Connie!” I squealed. “I did it! I made it!”
“You did?!” she jumped out of her chair and came running toward me, both of us clapping and laughing. She gave me a giant hug and we continued the kind of squealing only girls and some gay men can accomplish.
“I’m so happy for you!”
“Thank you!!! I’m so glad it’s done!” I laughed.
“Update your word count!”
I went over to the computer next to hers and updated my final word count on the NanoWriMo web page feeling another giant sense of accomplishment. It was done. A whole month went by and one day at a time, I made it. Despite my brain feeling like absolute mush by the end, I was happy beyond measure to have done this and excited to see where the story would continue to go once I picked through it and figured out what path I would take with it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chicago's Hot Chocolate 15K..!

How about another race after a marathon?

This wasn't my plan exactly when I signed up for the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15K. I wanted to do the race last year but couldn't because of work. This year though, I was off and signed up without realizing it would take place just 6 days after the marathon.

My friend Elizabeth and her boyfriend Jim were running the 5K portion of this event. We met up early the morning of November 5th and went to the start line. It was FREEZING and the race was delayed due to an accident along the course somewhere.

Once the running began I couldn't feel my feet. It took about two miles of slow running due to the crowds to get warmed up. Forty thousand runners were up and going this morning as opposed to the 1,125 runners in Atlanta.

I ran the whole time. I finished.I drank a cup of hot chocolate and ate chocolate fondue on various goodies such as a banana, apple slices and pretzels. It was pretty running through the Loop but I'm learning quickly that big races like this one aren't my cup of tea. It's stressful to run with so many people. I like a lot of space.

I'm still glad I did it. Elizabeth, Jim and I met for brunch and I stopped by Intelligentsia to see Jeff. No more races for the end of the year but I do have another challenge in mind...

The After..!

Whoo hoo! Jeff and I made it to Atlanta the morning of Oct 28. We rented a car, checked into our hotel downtown and drove to my parent’s for dinner. I’m extra giddy, happy to have him with me, wanting to soak up everything about the city and my previous life here. I want to bottle it up to keep with me forever. It’s as if my eyes can’t take enough in. I want to be everywhere. I also want to talk Jeff’s face off, share every single one of my memories with him as we drive passed places I used to frequent.
Mom made a beautiful, delicious dinner of spaghetti and buttered bread for us. The table setting was gorgeous and we ate off her fine china. My aunt and grandparents joined us. It was so nice to see everyone, to take a little break from life as I currently know it.

The next day Jeff and I went over to the race expo at Atlantic Station to pick up my race number. It was a bit chilly and I started re-thinking wearing shorts for the race. I bought a purple pullover jacket that says “Atlanta marathon” on the back of it. I also couldn’t live without a “26.2” magnet, finally happy to be able to buy one.
Even after picking up my gear this still doesn’t feel real. I keep waiting for it to “hit”. I keep thinking some feeling will announce it’s presence and will jolt me into recognizing that I’m going to do this tomorrow…ready or not. Nothing is happening though. Not even after coffee at Octane, not after meeting Kat for brunch, not after driving around, not after going to Lululemon to buy long running pants because seriously, let’s be honest, running through forty something degrees in next to nothing doesn’t sound like fun. I am caffeinated but feel I could sleep for a week and am wondering what’s wrong me? How come I don’t feel anything more than loopy?

The weeks leading up to the marathon, I spent a lot of time freaking out, being emotional, crying a good bit and stuffing my face. I thought I’d be more prepared, but I didn’t know what that actually meant. No, I didn’t do a twenty mile run but I did cross train with yoga and weight lifting. No, I didn’t run every single day. I didn’t even run most days, but when I did run, more often than not, I listened to my body and tailored my mileage accordingly. Some runs were short, some were slow, some fast and some were long. I honestly, ran when I felt like it.
At work I wore my Danskos to protect my feet instead of heels or really flat shoes. I got weekly acupuncture treatments, slept eight hours most days and did my best to maintain a solid plan of eating. All there was to do now was actually run. I’ve had this build up of anticipation since June and suddenly, here we are, finally in Atlanta, the night before the race.
Jeff is sitting across from me at my most favorite Italian restaurant, Sotto Sotto in Atlanta’s Virginia Highland neighborhood. We’re both pretty quiet. I don’t remember the last time I ate here but I’m thrilled he’s able to share the experience with me. We turn in early as I have a 5:15am wake up call.
When my alarm went off I thought I’d feel a surge of excitement like I did the morning of my first half marathon in Chicago. There was excitement of course but mostly a sleepy calm that had me slowly rolling out of bed, glancing at a sleeping Jeff before beginning to pull on all my gear.
At 5:30 Jeff got up and began making coffee for us. I ate a protein bar and made sure I had a little bit of cash, my iPOD, (it was advised that we not listen to them as the course was not completely closed. I decided I would thread one ear bud through my shirt and into one ear when I was ready. There is no way I’m running for that long without some kind of music.) and my energy gels to consume along the way. I planned a stop at both13 and 20 miles for a refuel and some stretching.
Before we left the hotel Jeff gave me a giant hug telling me he was proud of me. I chewed on my face to keep from bursting into Niagara Falls style crying. It means so much to have him here alongside me. I love to run alone but for this race there is no way I’d want to finish without him.

The traffic at Atlantic Station was a little crazy at 6:30am. The temperature outside was forty six. I wondered where my dad was as my phone was quiet. He was meeting us at the start line then going home to get my mom. When it was time for me to get into my “corral” (I waited till the last possible second.) I peeled off all my warm layers, giving them to Jeff, before kissing him goodbye and heading over to the mass of people ready to run.
I found the end of my corral and squeezed in, wanting to stand as close to other people as I could without being weird so I could feel a little warmer than I was. It was still dark outside when the National Anthem was played. I looked out at the little piece of Atlanta skyline I could see from where I was. My favorite building, One Atlantic Center on West Peachtree was glittering and I couldn’t help but to smile a little.
Within minutes we were all off and running. There wasn’t a “wave” start, just one big one so off we went. I saw my dad along the sideline of spectators holding a camera, and wanted to yell out to him but didn’t want to freak out the guy running beside me.
For two miles we all ran pretty close together through the dark. It felt peaceful, but really cold. The bones of my fingers were aching. I planned for my first three miles to be rather slow. Of course my first mile was just under ten minutes and I wanted something a little closer to eleven. I continued to slow down, stopping to stretch my shins a little before going again.
I noticed that many people had their iPODs going and or were chatting away. I was content being alone. As I approached mile 3 I decided to turn on my music.
We went into downtown. My iPOD was set to “shuffle” so it was randomly playing stuff. For a while all the songs that were playing were ones I was obsessed with after Rob died including his favorite, Saving Abel’s “Addicted.” I couldn’t help but smile a little. I ran a lot after he died, imagining he was with me. My longest run ever was months after his funeral, totaling sixteen miles. I was in a lot of pain after that. I wondered what sixteen miles would feel like now.
Eventually, the newer stuff I downloaded started filtering in as we made our way into Castleberry Hill. I remember visiting a little coffee shop a long time ago. I like the area but it was out of the way from where I used to live.
Running up hills was a little nuts. I refused to stop and walk though. I watched the sun rise as I ran passed the capitol. At mile six I had to stop to relieve my very full bladder. (TMI? Sorry.) I made a point of drinking water at every other water station whether or not I thought I needed it. I stretched a teeny bit and got back to running. I sped up a little and noticed as I passed the digital clocks along the course, that I was still hitting my ten minute mile target.
At mile 8 we were running through Grant Park. I ate an Accel energy gel they were giving out as I ran on passed the Atlanta Zoo. I had warmed up a bit and my body was feeling good. Thoughts of chocolate chip pancakes were going through my mind as I ran passed Dakota Blue. I was ecstatic to see all the beautiful changing leaves on the trees, reminding me of my last days in Atlanta before moving up to Chicago.
At the Oakland Cemetery people wearing costumes cheered us on yelling we were “almost there”. Ha! Hardly. We weren’t even at the halfway mark. Running passed the wall lining the cemetery made me think of eating Mexican food with my co-worker Matt and going for a walk through the cemetery observing all the headstones and the ages of people when they passed away.
I beamed at all these people and high fived many of them as I ran on by. I was stripped of fear, not caring what I looked like, not caring about anything but this exact moment, running beneath sunshine through a place I, in my mind, still call home, in search of a finish line where my family and dear sweet love would be waiting.
We hit another hill after crossing Boulevard on Memorial. The Highlands were coming and it dawned on me that 13 miles was coming soon. These short hours would be over with before I knew it. It took weeks and weeks to get to this point but it was going to end in a blink of an eye. I was trying to soak it all up, store it away in my mind to later draw on when I was feeling incapable but really, I couldn’t stop my head from wandering, from going on it’s own journey. I kept bringing it back to my body though. I focused on my breath, keeping it steady. It was steadier than it ever has been in the history of my running. Full deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. My lungs felt strong, full and capable. My legs were still feeling energetic and my arms were pumping happily along.
I try not to feel angry when I see a gigantic hill in front of me as we approach mile 12. This isn’t something I feel like doing. I start lifting my knees higher to move myself along when I hear a voice next to me.
“You got this hill!”
I turn to my right to see a man running alongside me.
I laugh and say it’s only because he’s here running with me.
We both laugh confessing this is our first marathon, neither of us able to articulate why we were crazy enough to sign up for it but here we are feeling grateful it’s a perfect day.
We keep going and I observe that we’re running at the exact same pace which could be trouble. I didn’t plan on making any friends during this experience.
He tells me his name is Larry and asks how old I am.
“No way.”
“You got kids?”
I laugh and tell him I have a fabulous boyfriend.
“What makes him so great?”
Oh my. My mind reels and I suddenly think “quick, sum Jeff up in three words because your breathing is getting jacked from talking.”
“Jeff is supportive, the kindest person I know and he lets me be who I am..”
“Well that’s really good.”
“It is.”
Larry confesses to having some issues with his parents and I’m starting to think that this is too heavy for me to deal with. I don’t want to talk or listen anymore as we approach the Virginia Highlands. This is the part of the marathon I was most looking forward to. It’s my most favorite neighborhood in Atlanta. Jeff was meeting up with Kat and Gordon at Limerick and I wanted to be sure to see them.
After a little more talking with Larry I excuse myself and hang back a little. I don’t want to run any slower but I want to make sure to put a good distance between him and myself.
I cross Ponce de Leon on N. Highland. I run passed Belly, Van Michael, and Surin, all places filled with happy memories and am so excited to go pass Limerick. I see a taxi blocking the body of a man I already know is Gordon. His two dogs are with him. I also recognize the person getting out of the taxi.
“Jeff!” I yell out to him, waving.
He waves back, smiling and I yell to him that I love him.
Gordon waves and yells that Kat is down the street. A few strides later I see her and yell out to her, checking for cars before sprinting over to her for a giant hug. Seconds later, Jeff has plowed into me, kissing me and I squeal to them that I’m on time! I just may finish in four hours!
“I can’t believe it!” I exclaim and we all exchange hugs before I dart across the street again and get back to a small group of people I was keeping an eye on to help with my pacing. (unbeknownst to themJ)
I can’t help but to smile as I run down roads I used to run along when I lived here. We approach Piedmont Park and run through part of it. It’s still so green and beautiful. I am reminded of rollerblading with my friend Shannon three years ago before I moved, wiping out several times and laughing so hard we could barely get our asses off the pavement. I see a guy holding a poster that reads something like “Every wall has a door!” I etch that into my brain to save for later should I hit the dreaded “wall”.
As we leave the park I see we’re at mile 16. I eat my caffeinated energy gel. I feel both nervous and excited. I can’t believe that my legs are still working as I’m beginning to run along uncharted territory as far as mileage goes. Before I know it, I’m going passed mile 17 and going faster. I’m clocking a couple of eight minute miles and slow it down feeling tears sting my eyes because this is actually happening!! I’m really doing it!! And I don’t want to die!!
At mile 18, I drink some water and take another Accel energy gel to hold on to for later.
Mile. Twenty. I am literally mouthing the words to Nelly’s “E.I.” as I’m losing my mind a little, and running up yet another damn hill. I end up passing Larry and decide that I better not slow down. I recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Serenity Prayer and keep my knees up while getting myself up this hill that feels like it is it’s own marathon in an of itself.
I think about stopping to walk at mile 22. Things are getting very quiet as the crowd I was with has thinned out almost entirely and I feel alone. The people that I do see are walking and it’s tempting but I don’t. I’ve slowed to an 11 minute mile and don’t care. I remember my high school track coach telling us to do long runs on the weekends. We were told to go for an hour and it didn’t matter how slow we were so long as we did it. An hour to me at age 17 seemed like an eternity, so I never did it. Here I am at age 30 going for four hours.
Mile 23. Accel energy gel time.
We go through Lindberg Station which has changed so much I don’t recognize it. I run onto Peachtree Street going passed the Panera Bread I used to eat at on Sunday mornings when I worked in Buckhead. There was yet another damn hill near Piedmont Hospital and again, I felt determined not to quit. I kept my head down so I wouldn’t be tempted to walk like everyone around me.
I thought we’d take Spring St to Atlantic Station but nope, we take a right onto Deering Rd and follow that. At mile 25 I see the elapsed time is 4:12hr and find that I will not make it in four hours…but I can do it in under 4.5 hours if I hustle. This sounded great until I saw that there was once more hill.
My iPOD begins playing Duffy’s “Mercy” and I smile. A woman in a small crowed of people cheering for us yelled “Go Melissa!” (my name was on my race number) and my smile got bigger as I picked up my pace. I heard her say “that girl has too much energy.”
A few minutes into mile 25 people began yelling “Only one more mile to go!” I continue to pick up my pace. I turn off my iPOD and let the noise of the cheering crowd push me. I see the finish line and continue to go faster. My eyes scan the crowd looking for Jeff, or Kat, Gordon or my family. I can’t hear and don’t see anything but a blur of faces. I absolutely cannot believe how fast my legs are going after going for so long.
I touch the finish line at four hours and twenty five minutes. I don’t feel short of breath. My quads and shins don’t hurt, but my calves are seizing up. A woman puts a medal around my neck and a guy takes my picture before I hear my dad say “Lissa!”
I race over to him and hug him hearing him say in my ear “You did it!”
“I did!” I reply trying not to cry. “I ran the whole way.”
Jeff is my next hug then Kat, Gordon and mom. I’m tired, but so happy. Cameras are snapping pictures and we’re all talking that everything becomes a happy blur.

I’m not sure what I was expecting to feel after running but what I did feel was a sense of accomplishment like I have never felt before in my life. I didn’t allow any negative thoughts to cross my mind while I was out there. There was nothing but sheer joy and happiness at what my body could achieve and the strength of my mind that kept me in a state of determination all the way to the finish line. I will take this feeling with me wherever I go and infuse it into everything I do.
As for running another marathon…one day.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Before...

It’s Thursday afternoon, the day before Jeff and I leave for Atlanta and I’m supposed to be at work. Sadly, my dermatitis is threatening to eat away at my left hand so I’m forced to sit this one out. It’s been a relatively quiet day. I ran a couple of errands to get some goodies for the plane and filled out a registration form for school. All I have to do now is pack.

Yesterday I got acupuncture in hopes to make my crazy skin calm down. My lady, Carrie, gave me some nasty tasting herbs to take and more to soak my hands in. It was lovely to lay there and be worked on. I desperately wanted the care she was offering. I wanted to relax beneath the feel of her hands and the needles moving the stagnant energy I seem to be storing. I am still rather emotional about these upcoming travel plans. I cry at the drop of a hat and laugh at the silliest things. I could barely be still on the table as Carrie pushed and pressed into my stomach and knees, trying to find the right spot for a needle. I hope this tension will release on the road once the race starts. I’d be a lot happier if I could release it now. I’m vacillating between running from whatever I’m feeling and trying hard to be still. This metaphorically looks like eating a cookie or 3 while stretching on a yoga mat. I tend to forget the fact that I’ve even pulled out the mat (every day for three weeks now!) is huge. I figure the cookies will take care of themselves if I don’t worry too much about them and quit trying to change how I’m feeling by using them.
I’ve received a lot of kind words, some warnings and some advice about running such a long race. The most common ones have been…
* Don’t start too quickly, you’ll run out of energy. (this is by far the most difficult one for me)
* You’re going to hit a wall probably around mile 15 or mile 20. Don’t stop running. Don’t give up.
* Remember your friends, family and pancakes will be waiting for you so you have to cross that finish line!
* Distract yourself by trying to remember the capitols of every state, all your teachers from grades K-12, or your high school schedules.
* Make sure no one is cheering for you between miles 20 and 26. You’re not going to want to see anyone, but you will when you cross the finish line.
* You’re going to ask yourself “why am I doing this?” Keep going.
*Don’t worry about a thing. You’ll be great!
And my personal favorite…
*Always smile when you cross the finish line! There will be cameras!
Many people have asked if I’m ready. What exactly does that mean? I don’t think anyone can truly be “ready” for this. Sure training is really important but it’s also a mental thing. Right now I have no idea what to expect. At this point, for me, being ready is a decision I have to make. Sure I’m nervous that my longest run during training was about 15 miles instead of 20 but I feel confident that I can achieve this. A friend told me a long time ago that “if you can do half of any race, you can do all of it.” I’m going to trust that.
I went to Lululemon on Monday in search of something new to wear on race day. My friend Christine calls this place “the devil store”. We both have found that we feel instantly gorgeous when slipping something on from this place. The colors are beautiful, and the fit is almost always flattering. The sinful part is forking over an exorbitant amount of money for said items. I try to keep my habit to a minimum.
After trying on all sorts of things I decided to stick with the tried and true tank top I bought for my first half marathon. I bought a gray one that matches the original purple one and hoped Atlanta would be warm enough to rock the shorts I already own.

A while back Jeff bought me some Cliff GU shots to try on my long runs. I didn’t notice a huge difference when I consumed them but every single runner I’ve talked to said they find them to be imperative. I bought two and decided to see how it goes at mile 20 when all energy stores are depleted. Earlier this week, Jeff bought these delicious pbandj bars for me after I became addicted to them a few months back. They taste like real food ( because they areJ) and not like paper, chalk or cardboard.

I also got a new pair of shoes after my shin splints made a brief appearance a few weeks ago freaking me out. Shin splints have kept me out of races before. With some acupuncture, some stretching and new shoes, I’m back to normal.
The only things left to do are pack, fly and pick up my race number once we’re in Atlanta. It’s all still so surreal to me. I can’t believe it’s actually happening! Eek!!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Marathon Mix...

I haven’t written at all about this now upcoming Atlanta marathon. I haven’t had much to say about it really until now. It’s been staring me down lately, tapping me on the shoulder and reminding me that it’s coming. In turn I have been freaking out about the whole experience. Am I ready? Have I trained enough? What will I do if it rains? What if I don’t finish? What will they think of me?
“Calm down.” my co-worker Lindsay tells me one morning. She is running her 8th marathon in D.C. the same day I’m running Atlanta. “It’s normal to be feeling this way. It’s normal to get all emotional and scared. You’re doing a big thing and you’re ready. OK? You’ve already done the work. Now you just have to do the marathon. You can’t control the weather, or how you’re going to feel that day and people will love you anyway, so go have fun.”
I laugh at how simply she states things and return to Earth.
“I’m going to email you something a friend forwarded to me before my first marathon. I think it will help.” Lindsay says and gets online. Later her email is in my Inbox and I’m soaking up the words. I’m especially intrigued by the opening paragraph…

“People often ask,” why do you run marathons? “ I often joke that it is cheaper than therapy.

I believe however that people run marathons, especially their first one, because they are either running to something or running from something. Only the runner really knows which. A great amount of time and focus is necessary to train for a marathon. The endeavor not only requires intense drive but also sustained effort.”

This got me thinking about why I’m running. I’ve thought about it an awful lot and still don’t have a concrete answer. My love of running is high on my list of reasons if not the top reason. I’ve always loved running, have been decent at it, been competitive about it, and yes, it is cheaper than therapy, but seriously, a marathon?! What’s the point?
The point, for me at least, is to accomplish something physically and mentally demanding. Why do that though? I imagine I need to prove to myself that I’m strong enough because some part of me thinks I am not. Also, running creates space between me and the rest of the world. My head escapes whatever is bothering me. While I’m running it’s sometimes quiet but mostly it goes on it’s own journey as my legs take me through mile after mile. When I’m done I feel refreshed, happy for doing it and more often than not, a little more level headed than when I started. When racing, the energy of all those runners alone is enough to keep me addicted, not to mention the heart pounding anticipation of crossing the start line as well as the finish. There is also nothing like being among so many like minded people doing what they love, going after what they want whether it be a personal best, a first time race, a last race before starting something major like having children or getting married. Some are running for cancer research, running because they survived cancer, running through grief, or simply running because they can. Whatever the reasons are, having that shared experience tops my list of high points in my life.
Let’s also not forget the sense of accomplishment once the finish line is crossed. During my first half as I approached mile 12 tears stung my eyes because honestly, I didn’t know I could make it that far. I was on cloud 9 for the next three days after that race. I want that feeling again.
I found it interesting that the email Lindsay sent stated that people who run marathons are running to or from something. Lindsay feels I’m running towards school and a new life. I agree to an extent but feel I’m running from…something. Upon further exploration of that I see that I’m racing toward my future, away from past hurts, thoughts, beliefs that no longer serve me. I’m ready to be free of all that garbage and learn a new way of thinking, of being.
To accompany me on this 26.2 mile journey I’ve decided to put music from the past 15ish years on my iPOD to make me laugh at the silliness of being fifteen again, (Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby“) to relive driving home with Nathan after Friday night football games in high school, (Collective Soul’s “Heavy”) giggling through art class (Chumbawamba‘s “Tubthumpin“), swimming countless laps through swim season (Cake‘s “Distance“), running track (Sisqo’s “Thong Song” along with Collective Soul’s “Run”.), a freshman favorite (Matchbox20’s “Push”), commuting to college with my friend Kylie (Mystical’s “Shake ya Ass”, Nelly’s “Country Grammar”, and E.I.”), driving to Atlanta to Van Michael as I began my career (Ashanti’s “Rock Wit You”), my first concert with my best friend Kat, (Stereophonics’ “Dakota”) some late nights (Indigo Girls “Closer to Fine”), trips to London, (Coldplay “Speed of Sound”), meeting/losing Rob (Saving Abel’s “Addicted”) moving to Chicago (Killers “All These Things I Have Done”) falling in love with Jeff( The Be Good Tanya’s “The Littlest Birds”) and the list goes on and on…
I’m thrilled to make this journey both physically and mentally. I’ve never been so scared of a race before in my life but Imma do it anyway. I’m not sure what I’m looking for exactly or what I’m expecting by doing this. I don’t think I’ll actually know until I cross the finish line…

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I'm up early on the morning of my birthday despite going to bed late the night before. A sleeping Jeff is next to me but he's soon awake as I'm moving around. We talk a bit and I'm trying to decide whether or not to go write at Swim. In theory I always want to do my favorite things on my birthday. This includes writing, running, a massage, getting my nails/toes done, eating cake,and sushi (not at the same time) and being with someone, or a few someones that I love. Usually I get too excited and ansty to sit still and write. I can for a little bit but nothing much really happens, and, again in theory it's nice but, I usually get distracted.
Today is Saturday and my least favorite day of the week. I very much dislike the chaos of the salon when I'm at work. When I'm off though, I dislike the same chaos out in the world. It seems everyone is rushing from one thing to the next as if this is the only day they have to accomplish everything on their massive "to-do" lists. It would be nice to go to brunch but waiting an hour for a table just to scream at Jeff over pancakes and noise is unappealing. Even going to a spa right now or shopping sounds unpleasant. I decide to save these things for later, and do something I never do on my actual birthday. Relax.
I kiss Jeff goodbye and head out to Swim. I'm practically giggling on my walk to the cafe because the weather is perfection. After a long hot, humid summer, we've arrived to a beautiful sparkling fall complete with sunshine, clear blue skies, richly colored leaves and mild temperatures in the 70's.
At Swim I do more staring off into space and internet browsing than writing. It's difficult to pin point how I feel, besides simply happy, relaxed and excited. I'm freakin' thirty! This has always been, in my mind, a far off age...something that would happen someday but was hard to see. Even at 28 I had a hard time seeing 30. It seemed like it was another lifetime ahead of me and in a way it is a another life. It feels like I've found a glove that fits me perfectly and I'm slowly inching my fingers into it, staring at it like I can't believe I found it and it's mine. Not only that, but it's been with me, in a pocket, this whole time. I was just too busy trying on other gloves in hopes I would find something better or more interesting, but am now finding that my own little glove is perfect in it's own way. It's colorful. It's good enough and a helluva lot easier to wear than anyone else's.
I leave Swim to go get Jeff. I'm cat-sitting for my co-workers who are getting married in Florida today. Staying at their place has cut my commute to work down a little and has been an all around lovely experience.
Jeff and I go to the grocery store and get ingredients for breakfast and the cake I'm going to make later. I became obsessed with this chocolate pumpkin cake with pumpkin and nutella icing a while back when I found it on my favorite blog The author, Ashley says that this cake is a project and isn't something you just throw together. I decided to wait until my birthday to try it. Breakfast was also a recipe of hers. It's the "lazy oatmeal bake". We ate it with apples and Nutella.

To go along with the oatmeal action, I asked Jeff to bring over his coffee makin' goodies to brew up something delicious.


We ate outside on my co-worker's deck, finished our coffee and then... it was cake-bakin' time! Jeff brewed a little more coffee for me and I got to work.

This recipe requires making two different batters. I usually get turned off by a lot of steps or a lot of ingredients but not today. I enjoyed the entire process. I have to admit I was a little bit shocked when the cakes came out ok. It sometimes takes a couple of tries before I get it down when I'm cooking or baking. Once everything cooled, I whipped up the icing and took 8,000 pictures of my accomplishment. Jeff has 8,000 pictures of me taking these pictures I later discovered. :)

After the cake was cooled off and iced we had to get ready to go to dinner. We were meeting my friends Lydia and Kamal and Jeff's roommate and co-worker whom I adore, Spring, at Adobo Grill in Old Town. Jeff and I were then heading off to Second City after dinner for some comedy action.

Dinner and margaritas were delicious! It felt good to be out. Jeff and I laughed for two hours straight at Second City. We somehow got really good seats up front despite getting there a little later than expected. I almost had just as much fun watching Jeff laugh than I did watching the folks on stage.
We caught a cab back to my co-worker's apartment and passed out late. Both of us had to be up early at and work the next morning. It didn't matter to me though. I wouldn't have traded this day for anything. It was the best birthday I've ever had.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The End!!!

The End!!!

Today is October seventh and the last day of my twenties! I am sitting in Swim Café before work trying to conjure up memories of the end of my teens and turning twenty. I don’t remember a whole lot except that I was probably at work. I was an color assistant for a few months before Rob, the salon director at Van Michael Salon in Atlanta needed another cutting assistant and took me on. I had just begun my career in the hair industry eager to soak up everything I possibly could learn. I was still in a relationship with my high school sweetheart and I didn’t give a damn about getting color on my skin.
Today I reside in Chicago, and am in a lovely relationship that is better suited for me. My fingers are torn to bits from dermatitis and never would I ever dream of touching color with my bare hands. To top it all off I’m on the verge of switching careers. Never did I ever see any of this coming. My twenty year old self was certain that by thirty I would be married, living in a house I owned with my husband. My finances would be immaculate, the skin on my hands would be intact and I’d do hair forever and ever and ever.
I like today’s story more than I like Miss Twenty’s story. It’s way more colorful. I giggle when I look back and think of all the fun I had blowing paychecks, flying from state to state having adventure after adventure before jumping the pond and continuing the exploration of foreign lands. I proudly bought my beloved Celica at 21, lived by myself for five glorious years and left everything that was comfortable for some vast unknown life that waited for me in the Windy City.
The ups didn’t come without downs. I got my ass beat by my high maintenance Buckhead clientele early in my career. I swallowed my feelings with staggering amounts of sugar, caffeine and alcohol. I raced around like a maniac trying to please this person and that person while trying to figure out who the hell I was and whose rules I was following. When Rob died everything came to a screeching halt. Nothing else in the world mattered but taking care of the tremendous sadness that threatened to swallow me whole if I didn’t. As I slowly navigated through the darkness that is grief I began to wake up and discover a voice that has been with me all along. It was something I didn’t know I missed. When I felt ready I left Atlanta and started over.
Chicago welcomed me with it’s blustery winds, snow and…love. For the first time in my life I feel accepted. I feel like I fit somewhere. Through work I acquired the confidence I craved to be a better, happier, more successful stylist. My sense of direction has gotten way better from navigating the public transportation system, and I’ve finally found a healthy, supportive relationship with a person that I love so deeply that it almost hurts.
I keep wanting to capture every single thought and emotion today. Maybe I won’t be able to capture everything. Maybe that’s just how it is. Maybe I’ll never be able to express some things. Hmm.. I could just be here though, on the last day of my twenty ninth year, (a favorite this decade;)) with this delicious coffee, on this perfect fall day with all it’s bright sunshine, cloudless blue sky and yellow-leaved trees experiencing the wonderful life I’ve created for myself.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I finally met with an advisor, Mr. Rhiani, from Harold Washington who was referred to me by a co-worker I ran into from our Wicker Park salon. I brought with me the paperwork I acquired from the advisor at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and as I talked with Mr. Rhiani he pointed out that his job with me was nearly obsolete because I had all the classes I needed laid out for him. I simply needed to follow the guidelines already given to me when it came to taking classes. He suggested I stay for an extra two hours on top of the 60 that I would be there for, and get an associates degree in fine arts. I learned that that Spanish was both offered and required for the degree, (something I want to learn) and (eek!) piano!!! I was high as a kite when I saw that I could play again for elective credit. I’ve been daydreaming again about buying some sheet music and renting an hour at the library every so often to play, which I will still do, but to know that I could take classes again?! This was simply amazing. Maybe this undergrad thing won’t be as painful as I originally expected.
All this fabulousness will not be happening before doing all the unpleasant things first. Things like applying for financial aid, and taking the dreaded placement exam. Nothing freaks me out faster than a standardized test. Mr. Rhiani explained what to study and later when I looked it all up, seeing algebraic equations I haven’t thought about in forever I quickly shut it down and went for a walk…to Jeff’s.
“You need to be where you are.” he pointed out in the middle of my freak out session as we sat on his couch with coffee he carefully measured and brewed. Our couch time was something we used to do a lot more of when we first met but haven’t lately with our busy schedules. “You haven’t touched algebra in nearly fifteen years.”
I nod but don’t breathe, blink, or speak for fear of Niagara Falls style tears will burst from my eyes. It’s not really about the test, it’s about what I’ve learned about myself that I didn’t know I knew until this school process started. I am not as dumb and lazy as I originally perceived myself to be. This realization feels immense and overwhelming. I’m elated but also feel a lot of grief for how I was and am working hard to simply let it go. I can’t fix anything that happened already but I can move forward and make different choices today. That is what’s got me all wound up. Part of me wants to be still and have a moment or several with this realization while another part is ready to be done with it and move forward to discover what I didn’t a long time ago and more. Not only that, but this part wants flawless understanding of all the material I will have to learn, straight A’s and perfection.
I know Jeff is right. I know that I need to be exactly where I am and accept it. I don’t want to though. I still fear that I am completely ignorant, incompetent, stupid and I want to run away from it. This feeling is something I’ve carried around with me for as long as I can remember but haven’t spoken of. I believe it’s why I’m so emotionally charged about school. I can’t believe I’m going back into this world. Not only that, I’m going into it believing that I will do well. It’s so very scary, but so very wonderful all at the same time.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Summer in Pictures...

All this school stuff has had my head spinning lately. After meeting with an advisor at the school I've been going to for acupuncture treatments I've learned that I need some undergrad units before applying for the acupuncture program. Sixty of them to be exact. This has resulted in more research of schools trying to narrow down what will be the best option. So far I've decided on a community college, Harold Washington, to complete all of this. I've also decided to begin in the winter as I missed the cut off for applications for fall.

To ward off stress, I've baked a good bit this summer. I even roasted a chicken for Jeff! Something about being in the kicthen, focusing on creating something calms me down almost immediately.

As far as marathon training goes,it's been exceptionally hot and humid this July so not much running happened. I'm still set to run Atlanta's marathon Oct 30, and have currently been picking up my pace now that breathing is an option upon exiting my apartment.

Work has been lovely, although I've been daydreaming a lot about getting away to some quiet cabin in the woods in Wisconsin with Jeff. This summer was a busy one... more than usual as we both had friends in town, work obligations plus Jeff moved into another apartment. My brother Patrick and his wife Alex came up for a weekend and my best friend Kat came up the following weekend for Lollapalooza. While it was all a good time, I'm soooo looking forward to my favorite season...fall, with all it's chilly air, changing leaves, and pumpkin spice lattes...

The images below sum up the fabulousness that the end of summer was...

Jeff and I meant to go to the aquarium on what turned out to be the hottest freakin' day of the summer. There was a line out the door, spilling on to the pavement. Our change of plans included taking a water taxi (first time for both of us!) to Navy Pier where we sat outside, eating ice cream, and riding this giant swing thing before seeing a movie. I felt like I was five years old. It was a perfect day.

I made some vegan cookie dough, recipe compliments of, and added it to some chocoalte pasta from Seattle with sliced bananas. Mmm...

Being a tourist for a weekend was so much fun! I was quickly reminded of the many things I love about Chicago when my brother and his wife came up. We went to Millennium Park, took a boat tour along the river, went to the Art Institute and walked every where. I was happy to show them my favorite restaurants, apartment and daily life...

Oh Lollapalooza...I'm happy to say I did it, I'm happy to have done it with Kat, but I'm too old for this kind of crazy. On the last day it rained, producing a gorgeous rainbow. After that, we called it a night, met Jeff for pizza and beer at Piece before Kat was headed back to Atlanta.

BEACH!!! I've been in Chicago almost three years and have yet to go to the beach. One day Jeff and I met up at the Roger's Park farmer's market to see his cousin Nick, and his girlfriend Becky while they worked. After that we headed to the beach, meandered around the Roger's Park area, had lunch, and went to a new coffee shop. A few weeks later, Jeff and I went back to the water for swim. Yet another perfect

Let's not forget...

The Chicken!!!!

I had so much fun getting all the ingredients, and spending all afternoon like a
1950's housewife in the kitchen preparing a dinner that consisted of the chicken, handcut and seasoned fries, veggies, and a salad for Jeff while he was working. I was even more thrilled to see that it actually turned out well and nothing blew up.

After an eventful summer I'm ready for the deliciousness that is fall. I can't wait for the city to slow down, become a little quieter, and to enjoy the last few days of extended sunlight before the darkness of winter settles in...