Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We are what we think.

A few years ago, a friend of mine called me from an unfamiliar number, which was weird since I already had three numbers for him saved into my phone. When I asked how many phone numbers he had, he steadily replied: "Enough."

"Enough" is also the number of journals I keep, and today I'm pulling quotes from the Buddha journal. "The Buddha journal" may sound like something that contains peaceful reflections about the nature of existence, but that's a generous interpretation. It's basically just the fourth Breakaway journal (journals 1 - 3 have been overly-flatteringly excerpted here) with a picture of a Buddha statue on the cover.

So here are some quotes I like from the Buddha journal, which all come from the 2016 calendar year, and I can't imagine they'll mean much to anyone who isn't me, but that's okay.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Let's talk about food

Whether it's actually true or not, I like to think of myself as someone who is willing and open to try new things...and I find this is helpful when it comes to nutrition because a person can't get from breakfast to dinner these days without some new diet study coming out.

For the first twenty-five or so years of my life, I didn't pay much attention to what I ate. My parents were health-conscious and fed my brother and me well when we were kids. But when left to my own devices, I primarily lived off of frozen dinners, saltines, and Sprite.

At some point that changed; I don't know how or why. (Probably just age, but it's not important to our story, so it doesn't matter.) And at some point after that, it changed a lot. For instance, for many years now, aside from alcohol, I have not drunk anything but water and decaffeinated tea. Does this make me a better person than you? Who knows? But it certainly makes me a boring person to go to Starbucks with.

Eating something terrible, no doubt
For about two years, not long ago, I switched to being mostly vegetarian. Then I read that eating meat was really good for you, so I started eating it again. Then I read that some fat is also good for you, so I stopped buying things that were "low-fat." Then I read that juicing was awesome for you, so for a year and a half, I juiced once a day. Then I read that juicing strips all the fiber out of fruits and vegetables, so I reverted back to mainly eating whole produce. Then I read that carbohydrates are horrible for you, so I started counting carbs and reducing my pasta and cereal intake.

And then, last weekend, over the Labor Day holiday, I realized just how sick and tired I was of most of the things that I eat, since I have a tendency to eat the same things over and over until I read something that tells me I'm doing irreparable and permanent damage to myself by eating those very things (at which point I start eating other things). So I ventured into the world of food blogging, and what I found was that there are a hell of a lot of bloggers out there who are freaking hardcore when it comes to their food.

I was looking for something new to eat for breakfast and for lunch, and I stuck to Whole30 and Paleo recipes, not because I think either of these diets are such a good idea, but because they were uncharted waters for me. Not being interested in adhering to them every day for every meal didn't mean they didn't have something to offer.

So after finding a couple of promising recipes, I whipped up a batch of egg-sausage-and-tomato things to heat up for breakfast each morning, and I made a chicken salad with avocado (instead of mayo) to wrap in lettuce (instead of bread) for my lunch. This took hours. It was more time than I've spent in the kitchen in one go in my life. I felt deep pride by the time I was done. And everything smelled delicious. But unfortunately, everything did not taste delicious. Truth be told, everything tasted a bit like cardboard. That is, of course, the number one pitfall of super-healthy eating: much of what tastes the best in our modern world is exactly that which does the most damage to us. I choked both things down all week, but I'm not sure I'm up for putting in the effort to make those particular recipes regulars in my rotation.

In conclusion, and in summary, my life did not change with my diet this past week, but it was worth the experiment. The information available about food is infinite, and it's contradictory, and it's constantly changing. Just when I think I'm doing well, I find out I'm not.

So, as with all things in life, in nutrition I aim to adhere to the mantra of everything in moderation. 

Happy eating. And good luck out there...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Tripping the live fantastic

I was asked for some clarification on the last entry. :) (That's what I get for trying so hard to be specific without using any examples that are specific.)

So, we all know about me and 2012 and being 30 and "working on myself" and all that, blah, blah. As that year came to a close, I knew I needed a new job, so when 2013 rolled around, I pulled out my resume and I looked at it from a new angle. I had all of this work experience in a field I wasn't interested in, but I also had a whole other set of skills, so I made my resume about what I could do rather than where I had worked. Then I posted it online.

It was up for only a few days when I got a cold call from a recruiter. He'd just received a job posting. In fact, it was a job at the same company, in the same department, on the same team as I work now. But at the time, I didn't know this department or this team or this job existed. As I read the description, I got really excited because a) I knew I could do the job, and b) this was exactly the type of work I'd been hoping to find.

The recruiter actually worked in an entirely different industry and had received the job posting by mistake, but I guess he was bored or something that day because instead of ignoring the job, he thought what the hell and started going through resumes online. When he ran across mine, he was pretty sure he'd found the perfect candidate, and I agreed with him. He submitted me for the position, and I waited.

You know where this is going - I got the job!

Except I did not. I didn't even get an interview. Complete dead end. The recruiter followed up with me a few times but ultimately told me he couldn't help me since this wasn't his industry. He didn't have any suggestions for other recruiters to work with either - he just didn't know where to direct me. Apologetically, almost as if he was breaking up with me, he called me one cold January morning to say he wished me luck, but this wasn't going anywhere, so goodbye.

Though disappointed, I figured the experience hadn't been in vain, for now I knew exactly the type of job that I wanted and, furthermore, had a specific position at a specific company to aim for. Considering my beginner's luck, I felt confident it wouldn't take long before other opportunities came my way. But we all know this story. Every one of us has a story like this. Most every story I tell on this blog is like this. I didn't hear from anyone else. No other recruiter called me. No other job postings appeared like that first one.

Weeks turned into months and I sunk into a crater of despair. I interviewed for jobs I knew I didn't want. I gave my resume to people who made my skin crawl. I asked for help from people I cringed to think about owing favors to. But I did it in the name of change. I had to get a new a job.

From a list of things bothering me, dated October 2013:
*****

Back then, my days went something like this: I woke up around 7:30 and got to the office at 8:30. I worked until 12:30, then I came home, ate lunch, and spent my afternoon doing whatever it was that I needed to do that day. Sometimes I wrote. Sometimes I applied for jobs. Sometimes I ran errands. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I cleaned. Sometimes I drew in a sketchbook or did a jigsaw puzzle or archived old blog entries or did freelance graphic design work. I never ran out of things to do, and I was never at a loss for ideas. My brain never stopped.

If it was a weeknight, around 5:30 or so I'd head out for whatever run I was going to that night. When I got home, I'd take a shower and stay up doing whatever until 10:30 or 11:00. Then I'd get up and do it all over again.

*****

In August of that year, in one of my free afternoons, I went to a networking luncheon, and that's where I met my future boss. I recognized her name as soon as she introduced herself; another thing I'd done with my afternoons was research the company and team I wanted to work for, and when she held out her hand, in my head, I told myself to keep cool, don't blow this, because this was my future boss. I casually told her I was a writer and only slightly less casually told her I was looking for a job. She told me to send her a resume.

You know where this is going - she hired me! Except she did not. Actually, she didn't even respond. When I followed up, she told me she was sorry, but she couldn't help me. There were no full-time positions available on her team, but there might be a contractor position opening up. Except she couldn't hire me directly for that either, so I'd have to go through a recruiter.

Luckily, I'd already been in contact with a recruiter at the very recruiting company my future boss suggested - I'd been introduced through a friend who'd taken pity on me. Though the recruiter had long stopped responding to me, I hastily wrote her an email anyway saying that if a position came up I was staking my claim on it, it was mine, and just let me know.

And...nothing.

*****

Celebrating the new job
(photo credit: Melissa McMasters)
In January, a full year after I'd started this process, the recruiter finally got back to me. She had gotten me an interview. By the end of February, I started as a contractor doing the exact job that I'd read about in that first job posting. I was there only six weeks when one of the full-time members of the team moved away, meaning his position was now open. And you know where this is going - I got the job!

Except I did not.

I didn't even fit in. I didn't sit with the rest of my team because there wasn't room for me on their floor, so sometimes everyone forgot about me. Four months in, my hard drive crashed and I lost everything I'd done since I started. Then, because of some company-wide policy changes, I lost my desk. I liked some of the things that I was working on, but it wasn't the dream position I was hoping it would be, and I started to doubt they were even going to fill the position of the guy who left.

Once again, I started to sink into a crater of despair.

*****

In those days, my schedule went something like this: I'd get up at 6:15, be at work at 7:30, and leave at 4:00. By 4:15 I was home, and I'd spend the one to two hours between getting home and going out getting ready for the next day. Then I'd go out, either to a run or to the Slider Inn or both. On Slider nights, I'd stay out anywhere from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., talking, drinking, talking, and then I'd come home and crash. My days were long, but I didn't mind them because it felt like I was getting to live two lives. I had my work life and my after-work life. My creativity suffered, and I wasn't writing nearly as much, but I had both money and a life to live outside of what made me money, and that's what I focused on.

*****

In December, just under a year after I started as a contractor, and almost exactly two years after I heard about the initial job, the full-time position on my team was finally made available to applicants. A little over a month later, it was official: I was hired on as a full-time employee.

In 2006, I wrote out a list of what my perfect job would be like, and this one hit every single line on the list and then some. Beyond having my own desk and really being part of the team, I got to work on new projects and was given considerably more responsibility. The job was so tailor-fit to me and my interests and my skills and my history that it was (and still is) a lively conversation point. "What luck!" people say to me.

And I always agree, yes, I was lucky, though I don't think anyone who has made it this far in this story would think that luck was the primary force at work here.

Mostly, I got the job because I put one foot in front of the other until I got where I was going.

From my perfect job list, dated July 2006:
*****

Nowadays, I spend my days like this: I wake up at 6:15 and I'm at work by 7:30. At 4:00 I leave, and at 4:15 I'm home. Then I meditate, and if I'm going somewhere that night, I get as much ready for the next day as I can before I head out. I try to be home by 8:30, if possible, and then I shower, and I'm in bed at 10:00. I read for a while and then go to sleep.

I can't stay out until 2 a.m. anymore; even if I could, I wouldn't want to. It's imperative that I be sharp in order to do my job, and the older I get, the less tolerance I have for both lack of sleep and hangovers. But just as importantly, the older I get, the less I fear that I'm missing anything by being in bed at a reasonable hour.

So that means most weekdays I have anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half of complete downtime - time when I'm not doing something scheduled or preparing for something or catching up on something.

That is not a lot of time.

Forty-five minutes to an hour-and-a-half is not enough time to sink into a deep creative flow. It's not enough time to get bored enough to come up with a new idea or wander down a rabbit hole of internet research. It's not enough time to think, or to plan, or to do much on a whim.

Some nights I don't go anywhere, and then I have more time. And I have time on the weekends. But nothing comes without a price, and I expend a huge amount of mental and social energy navigating through my weekdays. So recovery time has to be factored in.

*****

I wanted something very badly, and I worked at it until I got it. And now, in that very human way, there are other things that I want. In those little blips of 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half, I've been focusing on those things.

But I've also been struggling, because, to keep beating a dead horse, that's not a lot of breathing room. I only got the job because I had the time to get the job. I paid, with my time, to make the mistakes, to lay the foundation, to make the connections, to think, and to get frustrated, because nothing happens that's big that isn't prefaced by nearly unbearable frustration.

From the book to my running career, I have built every piece of my life through this exact process.

But while I've been sick, I've had more than 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half for myself every single day, and instinctively, I've reverted back to many of my habits that I'd forgotten about, like internet rabbit holes, and writing lengthy pieces that go nowhere with no guilt over the time spent because of fear that something had been wasted.

And in that time, I have not been thinking about the things that I was focused on before I got sick (these are purchases that I'm talking about, by the way; I'm not trying to be overly vague or make anyone paranoid).

So here is my conundrum: I flourish with freedom. I have flourished so well in the past that I have slowly built a wall around myself with all that I've created. I don't mind the wall. The wall is comforting and I'm proud of it and I'm proud of the way that I live within it.

But more and more I've been wondering what would happen if I knocked one of the sides down...just to see what I'd come up with to rebuild it.

Or do I keep building the existing sides higher?

Or do I tunnel underneath?

I don't know, and I'm okay not knowing. But I hadn't really stopped to think about it until I was forced stand still.


*I have no idea why I titled this entry the way I did.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Zen and the Art of Having Mono

I had been sick for six weeks before I was diagnosed, and while I knew I was sick, I didn't slow down as much as I should have. The first doctor I went to said I had strep throat. The second said it was a sinus infection. I went through three different courses of antibiotics, and it wasn't until the fourth doctor visit (new theory: "Are you absolutely sure you're not pregnant?") that I asked for a mono test.

Mono is an illness that is treated with rest, rest, and more rest, and nothing else. Once I knew that, and once I gave myself medical permission to let down, I found that rest was all I wanted to do...and that it did, indeed, make me feel better. At first, rest mainly meant binge-watching the Olympics. Then, when my head was a little clearer, I started reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I'd been meaning to read for quite a long time, but apparently needed a convalescence to follow through with.

Lifelike representation of the author.
I read a digital copy, and according to my iPad, I highlighted 65 passages, a rather staggering number for someone as stingy with a (digital) highlighter as I am. And yet for all that highlighting, I don't know that I enjoyed the book, which is an introduction to philosophy wrapped in a cross-country motorcycle trip. Parts of it I found eye-opening, but parts of it made me deeply uncomfortable...though perhaps that was the entire point. It took me a while to get through because it wasn't really a "rest" book. It was a book that required energy.

This mono business hasn't left me bedridden, but it has slowed me down just enough to disrupt my routine and force me to pause. And here's the thing: I keep telling people I want to get back into my routine because it seems like the right thing to say, but I'm not sure I do want to get back into my routine...or at least not the exact routine with no changes at all and everything precisely the way it's always been.

Sometimes I don't know from moment to moment if I'm tired right then because I'm sick, or if I'm tired because there's all this stuff, all these things, that fill up my time and I'm anticipating the weight they'll bring when they come flooding back. And there's part of me that feels guilty for even thinking that way, since these weights I'm talking about aren't bad things, and I know people who are consistently busier than me.

AND YET. It's me, so of course I'm going to take something totally mundane - like having an illness that most people get as teenagers - and use it as a learning experience, but that's what I'm talking about. This rest, this reprieve, this downtime that I have spent, in part, reading that damned book, is allowing me to not think about the life that I am not fully immersed in right now and instead think about other things, and oh my God, there is such a world of "other things" out there that I never take the time to think about.

Creativity is birthed from boredom, and boredom can't emerge without time, and time is something no one ever seems to have enough of.

But that's stupid. So much of what we do to ourselves is stupid. If you're going to be healthy, it's necessary to sometimes spend your time doing nothing at all. This is vital.

And that's the lesson I'm taking away from having mono.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tomato juice and flying

July 12:  "For some reason, on flights I always drink tomato juice. I never drink tomato juice at other times, maybe because it's too filling or there's too much sodium. I don't know. But I'm sitting here right now on my flight to Portland waiting for the beverage service to come around because, predictably, I'm looking for some tomato juice."

I wrote the above as I headed out for a work trip last month, simply noting the weirdness of it, and then LO AND BEHOLD, National Geographic came through with an explanation. Apparently noise level affects taste and cravings, and my weirdness about tomato juice is a weirdness shared by many other people (meaning it's not really a weirdness).

Fascinating.
Image stolen from here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

USA! USA! USA!* (*misleading title)

I know I've told the story before on some blog of mine (this one?) about how I took gymnastics in third grade, and after about two lessons my coaches told my parents I could be in the Olympics. It was a ridiculous claim regarding someone who grew to be 5'9" and has the competitive drive of a three-toed sloth, but at the time all that mattered was that I seemingly had no fear of falling on my head.

My gymnastics career died as quickly and abruptly as it began (amid a lot of screaming and crying on my part — I really did not want to compete), but it did leave me the legacy of compulsively watching the women's gymnastics competition during the Olympics every four years.

Displaying the tendencies one day my coaches would love.
This year, the American women's team is so good they might be the best ever. And when they won gold in the team competition earlier this week, one of the commenters on TV described what being the "best ever" means. Paraphrasing here: they weren't perfect, but they were steady, they did hard things, and they didn't make any fatal mistakes.

I need to, like, fucking tape that to my wall or something. Because that, right there, is the recipe for a well-lived life.

Back in March, when I was on my miniature spiritual quest, I hit a serious meditation groove, and I wrote about how once I passed a certain threshold, I just cruised for a while in a state of Zen. I was doing so well that I even set aside time to meditate every day that I was in Vegas visiting my brother. The day after we saw Britney Spears, when I was as close to death as a hangover has ever brought me, I still managed to get 10 minutes of meditation in.

But then I hit a wall with it; after 41 meditating days in a row, I sat down and I thought, you're only doing this to continue your streak, not because you really want to. And of course I was right (if I'm not willing to be honest with myself, then who will be?). I took it easier after that...maybe too easy...and well, it didn't take long before I saw myself staring down the barrel of all the things that inspired my miniature spiritual quest in the first place.

I heard someone speak recently who's a go-getter who used to run a lot. All she did, she pounded. She pounded at work, she pounded in her personal life, she pounded the ground as she ran...and she said that's why she started doing yoga. She was concerned that if she ever lost the ability to pound, she wouldn't be able to live with herself. Her words gave me chills. Out again came the meditation app...out again came my desire to shift my focus and steady my gaze. Except this time, with the understanding that I don't have to pound so hard. That's my real work.

I'm not perfect. But I'm steady, and I like doing hard things, and pounding a little too much in my life so far hasn't been a fatal mistake. (Yet.) (I don't think.) There's no gold medal for mastering yourself, but there's little in life more worthwhile than continuing to train anyway.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Happy birthday, Slider Inn

Over the weekend, the Slider Inn, a bar that has generated more stories in my life than any other, turned five.

My first visit to Slider was September 1, 2011, mere weeks after it opened, and I know the date because I wrote about it in my daily journal (where I mislabeled it as "Sliders"):

Stayed late [after the Breakaway run] to help with the Runner of the Month profile. Then Sliders with a group. Also got some new shoes.

The following week (by which point I'd sorted out the name), I got my first taste of what could happen there if I let the night rule me instead of the other way around:

3.6 miles --> beautiful weather and a 9:24 pace. Then...what happened?! Got home at, like, 2:00. DRUNK. Slider Inn.

The saying at Breakaway was “the best nights happen there and the worst nights happen there,” and true to that, Slider saw me through some really good times and some really, really bad ones. Even more so than my best races, my favorite Breakaway memories primarily come from the Slider Inn, with the parties and the people and the feelings of acceptance and home that greeted me during some stressful and painful years.

Those years and those memories were the product of those who worked there and drank there and the life that I was living, and it will never be the same, and that's okay because it's good to evolve.

But sometimes I miss it. And I know it's not just me. My cameo at the 5-year anniversary party was brief, but one of the patrons I talked to lamented that "things had changed." And he was right. Five years may not seem like a lot, but in the life of a bar, and of a person, it can be.

Today, I'm glad I'm here, I'm glad I'm the person I am, I'm thankful for the experiences I've had that have shaped me.

And I'm thankful that not far away from me is a place where I have had WAY too much to drink, where I have made really questionable life decisions, where I have cried, where I have laughed, where I have enjoyed Jameson slushies and Tiki Tuesdays, and where I hope to the Lord Jesus that I have progressed past the worst of it, because everyone should have a safe place where they can act like a damn idiot, and then take what they need from there, and grow.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Spoiler-free Cursed Child post

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released over the weekend, the eighth story of the Harry Potter saga (a saga whose influence cannot be measured in hyperbole alone), gifted to the public in two formats: a play in London and a script of that play in bookstores worldwide.

The plot is "based on a story by J.K. Rowling" and two other authors, which isn't the same as J.K. Rowling writing the story herself, and the script based on that story wasn't written by her either, although her name is larger on the book cover than the actual author's...

It was a strange trip to read — worth the ride for the novelty, but also cracking the door open for a lot of confusion if you think about things too much.

I'm glad I read it, but looking ahead, I'll probably start back with the originals the next time I feel the urge to revisit Hogwarts.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Taking aside all else...

...in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president, his wife was rumored to be making an appearance at Freeman Park in Bartlett, Tennessee.

This was before the internet, before 24-hour news, and for some reason, my 10-year-old self was in the car with my mom, my brother, and one of the four boys who lived across the street from us.

A local reporter, named Rod Starnes, was at the park when Mom drove through, and my mother, exhibiting the kind of casual self-possession that I long, to this day, to emulate, rolled down her window and yelled, as if she knew him (and her), "Hey, Rod! Is Hillary going to be here?"

Rod didn't know. So we drove around for a while and then went home.

Hillary didn't make an appearance, but Mom's line has been repeated more times than I can count at family gatherings. And now here we are, with Hillary Clinton as the first female nominee of a major political party for President of the United States.

I was at my parents' over the weekend and I found a report I did in the eighth grade that covered all of the presidents. As a 13-year-old, I had earnestly written: "Even though [Bill] Clinton is a Democrat, most other politicians he works with are Republicans. This makes it very hard to get anything accomplished."

Over twenty years later, those words ring so steadfastly true it's almost painful.

The first day of the Democratic National Convention went better than expected yesterday (three words: Michelle fucking Obama), but the road ahead is long and scary and I care, I care even if I try to distance myself emotionally to spare my sanity.

But today I will settle for being happy that my gender has achieved something pretty damned remarkable. Yes we can, girls. Yes. We. Can.