Tuesday, November 17, 2009

no idea what I am doing

As I do this National Novel Writing Month thing, I must remember two things my mother wrote:

1) One of the last things my mother wrote – in May 2007, just over a month before she died – was for a discussion panel on creativity at the university where she taught creative writing for more than 10 years. She wrote, “Writers don’t really know what to do or how to do it. They are uncertain.” My husband said, “Come on, some writers must be confident,” assuming my mother was not confident. But I think uncertainty is not the opposite of confidence.

2) I found a list in my mother's handwriting, a list of events from a very bad year (1983-1984). A tiny piece on that list jumped out: "I feel useless, stupid, not a writer."

These two bits go together. I must remember both as I write: as I think I am getting nowhere; as I complain that I can't write dialogue and that I don't have a plot. I have no idea what I am doing. And that is okay and, maybe, even exactly right.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


November is National Novel Writing Month. Hm. So I signed up. Day 3. I've got 1800 words that look nothing like a novel. I don't care -- I will try to write more words than I would write without the structure of NaNoWriMo. They may turn into a novel. Who knows?

First, I'm going out for a run.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

the better marathon

Not the “perfect” marathon, I am hoping to run a better marathon. I am running the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. It will be my fifth marathon, or my fourth (depending on how you count, since I didn’t finish my second marathon).

I have never finished strong. I think it comes down to a simple problem: I start too fast. I have indeed finished three of the four marathons I have run. But, in two of those, I was reduced to frequent walking breaks for the last 6-8 miles.

In the past, I have been concerned about speed, though my time goals have been realistic while also being challenging. I can finish a 10K in 48 minutes, a half marathon in 1:45. That should mean I can finish a marathon in 3:45 or even less. I did that, once, for my first marathon, my best marathon. New York City. I was 28 years old. I had been running for a mere 1 ½ years. (I am no high school track or cross and field runner. In high school I was smoking and taking soccer juggling to fulfill my physical education requirement. My dad ran, but I had no interest.)

During that first marathon, I did slow down a bit for the last four miles, but I didn’t have to walk (I tried, but when I walked, I felt I would never start running again – so I kept plodding and finished in 3:43).

For my second marathon, I had a time goal – to qualify for Boston. Don’t know why. I don’t really care about running Boston – but it was a goal. Problem was I did not do any speedwork. So, while I covered the proper distances, I started too fast and my legs literally seized up around mile 19. A terrible disappointment. Maybe I could have walked it out, but the time goal loomed so large in my mind, and I knew I would never make it.

After that, I didn’t care about Boston. But I still cared about speed. I trained with a group for the 2002 National Marathon in Washington DC. (The one that went bankrupt the next year, cancelling the 2nd annual race. It has been revived under new management with a new course.) I was convinced by my training and the coaches that I was capable of a 3:50 finish. So that’s the pace group I ran with. But the pacer had us going too fast, running 8:20s for the first five miles. I can do that, easy, for five miles, but that is not my marathon pace. I knew I was in trouble by mile 16. I had dropped off the pace group with two friends who were also suffering a little – but less than I was. I took walk breaks and wanted to stop by mile 19 (again – I know, the wall). But my training friend pushed me, talked me into continuing. Eventually, she ran ahead. I finished in 4:15.

I ran no marathons for six years, during which I had two kids and kept running and racing 10Ks, 10 milers and half marathons. In 2008, with my two kids aged 4 and 1, I looked to the Philadelphia Marathon. I was talking running with a new friend in my town, a friend I made because I saw her running in the early AM as I do and we both had 4-year-old sons who became good friends in school. I mentioned Philly, and she said, “Sign up; I’ll do it, too.” That little push did it.

Again, I thought 3:50. I am now dedicated to doing speedwork on a regular basis. My race times for other distances hold steady and strong. But, once again, I started too fast (trying to catch up to the 3:50 pace group, with their bouncing balloons). I knew I was in trouble by mile 10. That’s bad. I walked at each water station, then every mile. At mile 23, the 4-hour pace group balloons bobbed past, and I pulled myself together and suffered for the last 3.2. I finished in 3:59.

So, how to fix the blow outs? I think I just need to have some self-control and trust in the beginning – and avoid pace groups. My time goal is now 4:00. That I can probably do “comfortably.” And maybe I’ll even surprise myself and finish strong.

I want to run a better marathon. Five days to go.

Friday, October 16, 2009

running makes mice smarter

So, mice who are forced to run on a treadmill at a faster pace than they would choose are smarter. Does this mean when I force myself to run faster than a steady pace, say, do sprint repeats or tempo runs, I become smarter? Or do I need some outside influence forcing me?


-- Post From My iPhone

Thursday, October 15, 2009

dragon mythology by Iz

Iz told me this summer (I just found my notes):

“All dragons are called ‘Dragon,’ boys and girls.

I am a tiger dragon. Tiger dragons are the only good dragons. They are good to all other animals.

Snake dragons are mean.

Daddy is a water dragon.

Az is a tiger dragon.

Now I am a robot dragon."

Monday, September 21, 2009

the dental hygienist’s story

She is maybe 65. She has graying hair up in a loose bun, pinned at the temples. She wears glasses. She comes in to clean my teeth, hugs me and kisses my head. She puts on her mask. As she cleans my teeth, she tells me a story:

“I had a real scare on Friday night. I just bought a new car. And I am trying to keep it clean, which I think will last two weeks. You know what I mean? I’m a messy person. I’m not allowed to eat in my car. I can drink water in my car. Those are the rules. So there are little water bottles in there. Not much of a mess, but the start of a mess.

Do you know where the College Park recycling center is, on Paint Branch Parkway? Well, it’s meant only for the university’s use. Some of my girlfriends and me use it. But these contractors and workmen abuse it. They drop off everything: paint cans, construction garbage. One threatened to kill me once. I went over to his truck and told him that he couldn’t dump here. He was a white man. He said, ‘Lady, get away from my truck, or I am going to kill you.’ And he meant it. I’m never going to do that again.

So I had a few bottles in my new car and was driving near the recycling center. It was dark. So it was, oh, well, you know, it is getting dark earlier these days. So it was getting dark. No one was there. I put my little bottles in the plastics bin and went back to my car.

I couldn’t find my keys. I panicked. I looked in the dumpster. I looked in the car. I thought I looked everywhere. I was really panicking. The woods are right there. You know those security call towers, the ones with the big red button that you push if you need help? Well, I pushed that button and no one answered. I don’t know if they go to security or to the police. But no one answered.

I went out to the road and stood there, thinking someone would drive by and see a little old lady, who looked nothing like a co-ed, and stop to see if I needed help. I stood there. No one. Two college boys ran by with no shirts on and didn’t stop. They were on the other side of the road. But they couldn’t care less.

I pushed the button again. Nothing. Again, and a woman answered. She told me security would be there in seven minutes. ‘Seven minutes!’ I was screaming at the tower. ‘Where are all those university security people?’ She told me to hold on. She came back and said, ‘He will be there in 32 seconds.’ I mean, really, seven minutes? I told her that was ridiculous. I was alone; it was dark; there were the woods right there.

When the policeman arrived, I didn’t yell at him or ask him why it was going to take seven minutes. He was so nice. He tried to calm me down. But I couldn’t calm down. We looked in the dumpster, again. But I would have heard a rattle of keys if they’d fallen in there.

You know how the new cars have very plush carpets? Well, the keys had fallen under the seat, and I hadn’t seen them.

I told the policeman I was never going there at night again. He said, ‘Good.’

I am never going there at night again.”

I love this story for so many reasons: a true scare, humor, a very clear voice, a character emerges. I had to write it down. I don’t know what I am going to do with it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

things my mother saved, part 1

I am sorting a box of things my mother saved from my childhood: paper dolls I created, a tissue-paper flower, two bound books enclosing my preschool art, among many other things.

I found a story I wrote on her old Kaypro II computer, which she bought in 1981. "Clark, the First Cat" covers two printed pages, dot-matrix, with the remnants of the perforated margins where the printer feeding side bits were removed (whatever you call them).

Keep in mind, I was 10 or 11. I have changed nothing:

Clark, the First Cat

When I was only 2, my mother got a call in the middle of the night from a friend, who had found a cat. She had found an 8 month old cat, and she wanted to know if we wanted him. My mother thought that I would like a cat. So that night my mother’s friend brought the cat over.

In the morning I woke up to see a cat looming over me (at the time, I didn’t know what a cat was). When I screamed, my mother came running, as the cat jumped off of my bed. My mother told me that her friend brought him over during the night. She asked me what I wanted to call him. I said I wanted to call him Nicholas, but my mother said we should call him Clark. So Clark it was.

Over the next few days Clark got used to the apartment and us, and we got used to him.

About two weeks later whenever I left the apartment Clark would run up the hallway and leap onto my back, dig his claws into my shoulders, bite my neck and pull my hair.

One day when my mother came home she said that she was going to get Clark fixed and maybe he would calm down. My mother left and came back half an hour later.

For a week Clark didn’t jump on me, but then he started again!

When I was three and a half we got another cat called Dorothy. Dorothy was only a kitten but Clark liked her right away. He liked her so much that he only payed her attention and he didn’t jump on my any more.

So that is how we stopped Clark jumping on me.


I love the suggestion that my mother scooped Clark up, and got him neutered in a mere half hour. That can't be right.

I now know she wanted to name him Clark because her father was a clerk. But that is another story.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I finally had a daylight moment to read yesterday evening. I have caught up on the next Glenda Adams story, “Kangaroo,” in Lies and Stories. That was easy, just four pages. Then I sorted the newspaper pile and found an article from May 24 (at least it is from this year) about memoirs, rather, a review of three film memoirs: “The Way They Were: A Trio of Masterly Memoirs,” by Philip Kennicott.

I have no memory of saving the crumpled up Washington Post Style and Arts section, but clearly I meant to read the article. So I did. A month later.

The most scathing (and true) observation about contemporary written memoirs: “One awful thing follows another, and then a few chapters before the end there is some tripe about healing and redemption.”

What Kennicott describes as different in these three film memoirs from the “well-debased form” or written memoirs inspires me, not to make a film (how the hell would I do that?), but to write. He writes, “Memoir – the most personal and idiosyncratic form of storytelling – is as much about how we remember as it is about what we remember.”

I have some memoir-like thing percolating in notes, in my head, in fantasy. But I have nothing suitably traumatic to relate. I wondered if anyone would be interested in a memoir that was did not detail “the pain and suffering of addiction or incest or bulimia or child abuse.” But those things (awful as they are – real as they are) have become the cliché in written memoirs. So maybe I’m not living in a complete fantasy land.

These films, “L’Aimee” by Arnaud Desplechin, “The Beaches of Agnes” by Agnes Varda, and “My Winnipeg” by Guy Maddin, sound lovely in themselves – and were showing at the National Gallery of Art (in late May). Kennicott describes how the medium of film “plays with the illusion of immortality.” I like that. To distill the article’s descriptions (keep in mind, I have not seen any of these films): “My Winnipeg” is about leaving a hometown city, “L’Aimee” jumps off from cleaning out an attic full of a mother/grandmother/great-grandmother’s artifacts, and “The Beaches of Agnes” has the 80+-year-old “grandmother of new wave” telling her story on the beach with mirrors (or that’s how I read the description). No over-the-top trauma – but so compelling. This could be done in the written form, too.

There could be a place for my little memoir-like thing, which does hinge on the idea of how I remember, what I remember and why (and have forgotten, for that matter).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"my" book

Okay, it’s not “mine,” but my story, “Grandma’s Tree,” is a part of the anthology, Grandma Magic, edited by Janet Hutchinson, published in April 2009. All the stories are creative non-fiction; mine is an essay about my mother as a grandmother.

I am currently reading the book. The stories so far are excellent and are from varied points of view – grandmothers, mothers, children, grandchildren. The authors are all Australian women (myself included – I am a dual-citizen) – but the book is also multicultural. The first few stories have been set not only in Australia, but also branch out into, for example, Sweden and China. Australia is an interesting, multicultural country – with cultural influences that overlap with but are also very different from those in the States.

Grandma Magic is available only in Australia (for now) from:
Allen and Unwin

The 20 contributors are: Kristina Olsson, Annette Shun Wah, Gabrielle Lord, Angela Catterns, Robin Barker, Ruby Langford Ginibi, Caitlin Adams, Arabella Edge, Sara Dowse, Michele Di’Bartolo, Kerry Greenwood, Paddy O’Reilly, Lorraine McGee-Sippel, Jennifer Mills, Marion Halligan, Eva Cox, Shalini Akhil, Julie McCrossin, Eileen Naseby and Anne Deveson.

Unfortunately, each story has made me cry a bit, but not because they are sad. While only my story is about my mother in particular (of course), each story is about a grandmother and her relationship with her children and grandchildren. And my mother is no longer here to be a grandmother for my two sons. She was such a good one: quirky, kind, calm, creative, and all. And that makes me sad.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to end on a sad note. I am really very excited about the book. And my story is dedicated to my mother. She would have been proud.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I'm not sure and the financial crisis

I have been thinking a lot about doubting, questioning (or have I just been doubting and questioning my doubting and questioning?). I don't necessarily mean questioning in a confrontational, trust-no-one kind of way. I mean the questioning and examining everything from the mundane, to the personal, to the public, to the sublime. And I wonder if it is possible to be truly content. I am always questioning, examining. I don't know if this is particularly American. We are supposed to be so sure and bold, and we want those around us to be sure and bold. I am usually neither. And I think that is just fine. Would I exchange my I'm-not-sure-ness for pure contentment? Probably not. Then what would I have to say or think?

So, I was just reading a column in the Washington Post Outlook section (from March 1, 2009 -- yes, almost two weeks after the fact), "What Do They Know: True Confessions of a Conflicted Money Guru." Joel Lovell, himself a financial adviser, questions how those in his profession speak. They "dispense wisdom with utter assuredness, day after day, despite having been so spectacularly wrong in the past." In the recent past, no less. This was written before the recent Jon Stewart v. Jim Cramer
(whose name I barely knew two weeks ago) dust-up. But the two pieces fit together well.

A favorite bit from the column: "The advice I trust most now comes wrapped in doubt. Here's what I'd do, and this is why I think it's right, but I'm not sure." Terrifying, that no one can be sure about what to do in this financial crisis. But maybe also reassuring. We are not alone. We don't have to be sure to go forward. In fact, being unsure (and therefore open) may be the only way.

Who would have thought I would ever write about the financial crisis, huh? But this little piece from a world so unfamiliar to me -- I know very little about the financial realm -- reminds me of the bigger ideas of doubting, questioning, examining that have been so on my mind lately.

I state, for the record: I am not sure.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

something always gives

I have learned how to apply makeup and do it semi-daily. (Though eyeshadow still intimidates me – so I apply very little, using it like eyeliner on my upper lid.) Simple makeup -- no high-skill stuff such as foundation. So I look more like a grown up (at 37 years old, I know, I know.)

But with one achievement, something has got to give.

Now, I often find food stains on my clothes. Today: dried peanut butter on my jeans. It was on my shin, probably from kneeling on some toaster waffle with peanut butter that Az spat out on the carpet. And I left the house without noticing. I am still wearing those jeans because... well, why bother to change when I work from home. They are only going to get dirtier. (I did wipe off the crustiness. But an oil stain remains.) But still -- I want to look good, put together.

(A related question: Why am I always wearing jeans? They fit well and, I think, suit me and my shape. But really, couldn't I wear something else?)

When I had only one child and did not bother with makeup, I rarely found food stains on my clothes. It was a goal: do not be covered in food stains. I need to get on top of this issue again.

Hey, but I can now deal with makeup. That's something.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

cycling back or forward?

I'm sitting outside on my back porch, editing a white paper, and listening to WOXY.com. The promise of spring, cycling back again. Or is that cycling forward? A time meeting eternity moment: time going forward in the "eternal" cycle (it is not often I can refer to the title of my blog).

But winter will be back this weekend, or so I hear. But spring will indeed come! Now I believe.

Monday, January 19, 2009

found random periodicals

I've decided that the key to happiness is cleaning out and moving back into my office.

I am sorting one of the many boxes left over from clearing out my mother's apartment in New York City. (I did so in May 2008; I have not really dealt with this stuff yet.) A few boxes were tossed into my office -- which became a dumping ground over the last two years.

Cleaning, clearing, sorting...

When in her apartment, I found and packed five periodicals from the 1970s, among many items. These were neatly placed in the most remote bottom corner of the wall o' bookshelves in the hallway.

I have no idea why my mother saved them, and, if she saved them for some important reason, why she did not take them to Sydney when she moved. But I saved them anyway. I almost threw them into the recycling today. But I can't.

She kept:

1. Scientific American, Volume 229, Number 5, November 1973.

2. Scientific American, Volume 229, Number 3, September 1973.

3. Bananas, Number 10, Spring 1978.

4. New York Arts Journal, April-May #9, [no year noted].

5. Desire, Pilot Issue, [no year noted].

I also have in hand two prepacked collections of literary caricatures, copyrighted 1964 and 1965, by David Levine from The New York Review of Books. Added to these folders are other Levine caricatures that she clipped herself throughout the 1960s.

I am so, so curious. I feel compelled to read them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

the crux of the matter

Okay. If I am going to write, then I must eventually write about when I was 16 years old and lived in Sydney for six months. But I avoid this topic. Completely. Until now. Don’t expect anything that is earth shattering – I think it was only so for me. I’ve blocked out a lot of the memories; this is going to take some work.

So many BIG THINGS revolved around this event.

First, I begged my mother to move there. She was Australian. I am half Australian. I was unhappy. My mother must have wanted to move there too. But I begged, cried. So I think the whole move is emblematic of how my mother was so understanding and supportive. We moved in January 1988 (unless it was December – can’t recall).

Second, I had spent the summer of 1987 in Sydney, visiting my friend K’s high school. I thought I fell in love with a boy (who turned out to be a boring stoner). So, my boy-crazy nature drove my “grass is greener” thoughts.

Third, my father had remarried and my stepmother was pregnant. I don’t remember associating this with my desire to move, but it must have been, right? I became no longer an only child (while I was in Sydney). AND, this whole move made my father so mightily angry at my mother (and me – I remember him saying, “You are a scared person, just like your mother.”).

Fourth, I was in my junior year in high school. Every year I seemed to go through some kind of “run away” scenario. For example, in tenth grade, I wanted to drop out (silly girl).

That’s all I can write about this for now. But I do know that if that book is going to get written – for some gut reason – I need to write about this first.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Joanne Harris and Radiohead, random

(A disclaimer: I have no in-depth knowledge of either Joanne Harris or Radiohead.)

I listened to the rebroadcast Diane Rehm's interview of Joanne Harris on January 4, 2009. I have not read Harris' Chocolat (though the movie is quite good), and I know little about the author. But I listened anyway -- on the little radio in the bathroom while a took a shower.

A pair of red shoes figure in Harris' new novel, The Girl with No Shadow, a sequel to Chocolat. Rehm asks why a love of shoes and chocolate is associated with women. Harris answers that both are associated with magic, transformation (which does not quite address the woman connection, but anyway...). I especially liked how she described an irrational shoe-associated belief: if she could find the perfect pair of shoes, she would be transformed. I cannot remember her exact words. But I definitely recognized the idea. I am always on a shoe search. I think the perfect pair of shoes would perfect me, or my look -- so I suppose I understand that irrational belief.

I listened to another rebroadcast of a Radiohead interview on Sound Opinions on December 26, 2008 (as a podcast -- the show is not, as far as I know, broadcast on a local public radio station). I have enjoyed some Radiohead tunes, but I am no expert on the band. But I listened to the entire interview while I did a spinning routine (on a stationary bike, you know...)

Discussing how they record songs in the studio, the band members explained that they record a song, playing together, once (they may even videotape the performance). They don't listen to it until much later -- maybe months later -- and then they can rework it. This is instead of playing it piece by piece, working on one song for days or weeks in the studio, until it is perfected (there's that "perfected" theme again). They said the latter method makes them lose all perspective. The former gives perspective and helps them work together and see the big picture. Again, while I can't remember their exact words, I recognized this way of working -- similar to how I write. I put a bunch of stuff (ah, "bunch of stuff" -- eloquent) down -- often messy -- then polish later when I have had some time away.

These are my random thoughts for the day. Have a good night.

Monday, January 05, 2009

how to get ready for the playground

Actual sequence of events in a 15-minute period yesterday:

1. Make coffee to take to the playground (it's cold out there and I'm tired)
2. Grab a water bottle and snacks for Isaac (that he probably won't eat)
3. Get Isaac's coat and shoes on (a comination of nagging and doing it for him)
4. Let wildly barking dog outside, where he continues to bark
5. Get my own coat and shoes on
6. Go to the bathroom (in the basement, because our upstairs one is being redone) and check if Isaac needs to go ("no")
7. Let dog in
8. Put dog in the crate in the basement because he is covered in dirt (I'll clean him later -- we're trying to get out the door here)
9. Hear a crash while I am in the basement that sounds like my insulated and very full coffee mug hitting the hardwood
10. Run up the steps and yell at Isaac because coffee -- all of it -- has spread across the floor and spilled over my comfy flip flops
11. Clean up coffee and flip flops
12. Apologize to Isaac because the spill was an accident (anyway, I need to stop yelling)
13. Teach Isaac to say "I accept your apology"
14. Make a new cup of coffee
15. Go to the playground

Sunday, January 04, 2009

possible new direction

New year, possible new direction. Since I have not posted in a long time -- perhaps I need inspiration. I can't always write about my children, running, and my mother. I mean, blah, blah, blah. Enough.

I am thinking of posting and commenting on articles interesting to me (but of course -- and so original -- can you feel the sarcasm?). But these articles (the few I get to read) sometimes catch my attention because they are about interesting women, or some topic connected to feminism, or even about medieval topics (that old educational interest of mine) -- though sometimes they are random. I have one in hand about what people's things say about them (more on that later). I have files of clipped articles (both actual, yellowing newspaper pages and digital ones on my hard drive). I swear it is a family trait to save such things.

For today, the one article I have read in the Sunday New York Times was about Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig. I love her. She's one of those bright, very cool women. And I like that she describes herself as shy. My favorite quote: When asked about fellow female comediennes, Wiig replies, "Why can't there be a lot of great women who are doing great things?" She sounds like someone you'd want to hang out and relax with.
(I should have more to say. Ah, well. Just enjoy the read.)

(And I'm sure I will post more about children, running, and my mother.)