Tuesday, March 18, 2014

the friend-bully

When I was 15 or 16, I received a phone call. When my mom handed me the phone, I assumed it'd be a friend wanting to make plans; what happened next would leave me without a voice. On the other end was J, a classmate and so-called friend, and she had called on behest of my supposed best friend R (or so J claimed) to basically tell me everything wrong with me.  The subtext, of course, is that with so many egregious faults, who would want to be my friend?

Had I been older, I would have interrupted when the onslaught began and hung up on the bitch. Instead, I sat in passive silence, tears running down my face, listening, accepting the litany of my faults. Part of me wanted to hear all the things I feared were true; part of me just couldn't stop listening despite the pain. Here was a person I thought was my best friend in the entire world, a girl whom I'd shared all my secrets, and whom I loved, speaking through this horrible person.  When I finally did hang up--or did my mother see my tears and tell me to hang up? I can't remember--my mom was furious and I was heartbroken.  After that day, R was no longer my best friend, and I was left bereft.

I'd forgotten about that painful occurrence until recently, when R posted something about the bullying she'd endured in high school. While I knew she had been mocked and bullied--in fact, I was one of the few people who stood by her and tried to defend her as best I could in  my shy, quiet way as she spun what I would come to realize were likely elaborate fictions--all that kept running through my head was well, yes...but weren't you also a bully to me? The cruelty of adolescence is that nearly everyone has someone weaker than themselves to bully, and it turned out that even a supposed-best-friend can become a bully when her friend is socially awkward, shy, and sheltered. I was, in other words, a fairly easy target for such cruelty, especially with the encouragement of someone who cared nothing for me.

I'd later learn that this same best-friend had revealed my secrets. Thanks to the honesty of my brother, I discovered that she had divulged all kinds of private information: boys I liked, the fact that she wanted me to try out for cheerleading in order to make fun of me, and who knows what else. For the painfully shy girl I was then, this was untenable, though I was lucky to discover it after our best-friendship had crumbled into a friendly school companionship after I wordlessly forgave The Incident. By then I had her full measure and knew better than to trust her beyond silly confidences.

Here I am, however, 15 years later, and I am actually glad that I realized that bullies in best-friend disguise are exactly the wrong kind of friends to have. Since then, I had a few friend-bullies that I learned to stand up to or pushed out of my life (or at least toward the periphery), and now my best friends are close as sisters (or brothers!). They'd no sooner bully me or hurt me than they would their own family, and I trust them completely. They might poke fun at me, but then know when to stop before it ventures into cruelty. It was through betrayal and pain that I came to learn what true friendship should and could be, and formed a close-knit group of friends instead of isolating myself as I could have so easily done.  It helped to go to college, where I was in constant contact with individuals who had similar interests to me, and it also helped that I grew up and grew out of my shyness and gained confidence and independence.

So in a weird way, thanks R for teaching me the nature of true friendship. While I'm sad to hear about how the echoes of that high school pain have reverberated through to your present, I hope you can also see that bullying comes in all shapes and sizes--but that it can also be fuel for growth and positive change.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

balance over perfection

Day 3 dawns, and I crawl out of my bed, my head still full of congestion and pain even after 9+ hours of sleep. I'm supposed to be all gung-ho and happy about this challenge, yet I can barely muster up enough energy to clean my house, let alone cook good food. I managed to inspire L to make half of a recipe last night--the delicious sounding Roasted Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprouts Bowl--but we got as far as roasting the veggies and cooking the quinoa before giving up and eating leftovers.  (Lunch for today, though!!)

And of course, when I'm sick, I tend to either 1) not eat or 2) eat anything comforting for the sheer fact that it makes me feel marginally better for a few minutes.

Not that any of this is an excuse--however, in some ways, it has liberated me from doing this challenge "perfectly," which is a reason some people might not join in despite wanting to. I am too often a victim of my own desire for perfection, an unattainable state, and by beginning the challenge all sick and low-energy gives me a shot to carry through the whole four weeks by seeking balance instead.

Despite feeling poorly, I did make it to studio classes both Monday and Tuesday, which made me feel a bit better, and I'm planning to go tonight or do a workout at home, depending. (Don't worry--I'm not contagious, and I've been careful to wash my  hands and not get too close to people or their adorable small children.)

Yesterday, I even made a couple of recipes to use up old bananas, one a variation on these delicious muffin-tops (I swapped out the dates for tahini to reduce the sweetness and amp up the healthy fats/protein. I really should track things better when I make them so that I can actually give you all a recipe) and another this grain-free banana bread, which L heartily approved of.  I have figured out that I have to keep my snacks not-to-sweet, or I keep reaching for them (thus, no chocolate in my muffin tops), and L likes having a little treat to tide him over in that time between work and dinner.

That was the extent of my energy yesterday--after baking a bit in the afternoon and attempting to work, I succumbed to the desire to nap and lay on the couch while watching TV (PS: who knew Powerpuff Girls was so awesome???). But as Megan often stresses to us in class, we have to take good care of ourselves and give our body what it needs, and mine needed (and probably still needs) rest.  So despite feeling in some ways like I'm not doing the best job with the start of this challenge from the get-go, I hope that I'm demonstrating through example that the point of the challenge is not to be perfect, but to strive to do our best and to love ourselves and care for ourselves.

And now, to continue slowly getting well again.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

28 to great challenge

Around the holidays, Jamie turned to me at the studio and mentioned that she'd like to do something like the fall challenge again.  I agreed--the fall challenge was a blast, and I personally saw big results.  Fast forward until after the holidays, and I found myself wanting to recenter myself with regards to nutrition and challenge myself to balance my academic life, working out, eating well, and socializing, and I figured that taking on the barre3 28 to Great challenge was a good way to do so.

This semester, I'm officially working on my dissertation. The last time I had to write a massively long writing project (my MA thesis), I let myself fall out of the habit of working out and eating well--in fact, I wrote the thing on large bags of peanut butter M&Ms. I finished, but also gained several pounds in the process.

Knowing my own tendency to shut down when I'm overwhelmed or turn to sweets and food when stressed, I wanted to forge new habits. It doesn't hurt that I'm totally obsessed with barre3 right now: the Fayetteville studio is INCREDIBLE, and the instructors are awesome.  The goal of the 28 to Great Challenge is not to restrict yourself or radically alter behaviors, but instead to find that balance among exercise, nutrition, and connection.  For me, I also want to find that balance between taking care of my body and doing what I need to do to succeed academically and professionally.
The barre3 formula: exercise, nourish, connect

Anyway, so starting Monday, Jamie and I are leading the challenge, and I hope lots of people will join us. It's great to work together, share triumphs and struggles with each other, and encourage one another to strive toward health and balance.  Let's do this!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

running solitary

As the wind pushed roughly against my body, I leaned forward slightly to continue propelling myself toward the end of the dam across Lake Fayetteville. The glow of the sun was to one side, and tendrils of rose streaked across the sky and reflected in the lake on the other side of me. It was, despite the strong headwind, exhilarating and lovely, and I was simultaneously alone (without even an iPod to accompany me) and together with the other people enjoying this spring-like day.

Lately, I have found myself running alone more and more, electing to run my long runs alone as I train for marathon #3 (Little Rock, March 2014). While not always by choice, I have consciously sought out running alone.  I would not have been able to train for and run either of my two marathons without my running group, and at times I miss them (and will be rejoining the Wednesday morning run this week!); however, I'm also learning to enjoy the mediation and introspection--or the void--the solitary run can provide.

Today, I ran without any sort of distraction, and the miles flew beneath my feet. During this run I thought of nothing, of everything. I wrote the beginning of this post in my head; I soaked up the sunshine; I experienced the feeling of my body moving itself forward, the muscles I'm learning to understand better (through barre3 and yoga) working hard to support and sustain me; I observed the world alive around me as I traversed the Lake Fayetteville trail. I never grew bored, and I was sorry to see the end.

Part of my joy in motion was the delight of being able to move again after being too sick to leave my house for two days (and feeling under the weather for much of the week). Although I'm only at about 85% currently, I feel like a whole new woman, especially after my epic and traumatic hangover of last Sunday and the death cold that felled me on Wednesday and Thursday and part of Friday.

But more of it was that I'm learning to delight in just running. I barely glanced at my GPS watch and just allowed myself to enjoy the beautiful day, the wind, the fact that I could run in shorts and a light layer. On days when I don't feel like running (which was actually some today--I was due to run a long run but decided to push it until tomorrow), it is good to remember that when I do run, I am able to fully be in myself, relaxed and present. And even though running with others is intensely fun and helps the time pass for those 20-milers, I in some way lose the ability to meditate and enjoy just being a body moving through space. What I'm looking for now is a balance between getting to run with the energy of other runners carrying me and also being able to call forth my own quiet joy to delight in the solitary experience.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

wintry wednesday

I really, really hate having a cold. But the mental/emotional fog of yesterday has lifted, and although my stuffy/runny nose and light cough remind me that I'm not 100% healthy, my boosted mood is almost enough to overcome it. I fully intend to feel better tomorrow, after another good night of sleep.

I finished Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk about Running, and it is a book that rambled delightfully on, yet held together as a cohesive whole, like an essayist's memoir, or a memoir inspired by essays. Either way, if you want a well-written book about life and writing and running, this is the book for you--so often, books about running are fairly interesting, but not the most stylistically advanced. This book, while not one that will teach you things about running, is wonderfully thoughtful and polished that I can't not love it.

I wasn't able to run today because I didn't figure mixing running in the rain with fighting a cold was a very good idea, but finishing this book made me twitchy to get my feet back on the pavement tomorrow.

I will give you a few more tidbits that I had to mark as I read because they were so striking, and they so perfectly capture some of my own thoughts about running.

This quotation captures my attitude about running--I do it because I really, really like it, and I think other people should run only if they also really like it. Otherwise, find something else that you enjoy, like walking or swimming or biking or zumba or barre3 or ...
When I tell people I run every day, some are quite impressed. "You really must have a strong will," they sometimes tell me. Of course it's nice to be praised like this. A lot better than being disparaged, that's for sure. But I don't think it's merely willpower that makes you able to do something. The world isn't that simple. To tell the truth, I don't even think there's much correlation between my running every day and whether or not I have a strong will. I think I've been able to run for more than twenty years for a simple reason: It suits me. Or at least because I don't find it all that painful. Human beings naturally continue doing things they like, and they don't continue what they don't like. Admittedly, something close to will does play a small part in that. But no matter how strong a will a person has, no matter how much he may hate to lose, if it's an activity he doesn't really care for, he won't keep it up for long. Even if he did, it wouldn't be good for him. (43-44)
This I just liked because he sneers at the running naysayers (I'd add to the list the people who say anything about how I'm killing my knees or any other bit of me). Also, it offers a reason why runners run that's beyond exercise and health and goes much deeper than simply staying in good shape:
People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. But I don't think that's the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits; that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life--and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree. (82-83)
I like to run marathons not just because they are challenging, but on some level because I get enjoyment out of them:
Liz, who looks after my books at knopf, sends me an email. She's also going to run the New York City Marathon, in what will be first full marathon. "Have a good time!" I email back. And that's right: for a marathon to mean anything, it should be fun. Otherwise, why would thousands of people run 26.2 miles? (134)
And, finally, a good thing to keep in mind when my body starts slowing down, and I stop being able to run as fast and set awesome PRs:
There's one thing, though, I can state with confidence: until the feeling that I've done a good job in a race returns, I'm going to keep running marathons, and not let it get me down. Even when I grow old and feeble, when people warn me it's about time to throw in the towel, I won't care. As long as my body allows, I'll keep on running. Even if my time gets worse, I'll keep on putting in as much effort--perhaps even more effort--toward my goal of finishing a marathon. I don't care what others say--that's just my nature, the way I am. Like scorpions sting, cicadas cling to trees, salmon swim upstream to where they were born, and wild ducks mate for life. (149)
What an enjoyable book. Any of you all have any other running book suggestions for me?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


I woke up this morning with the warning tickle in my throat that is the harbinger of a cold. As I don't often get colds, I always face this situation with annoyance and with the determination that I will defeat whatever toxin is invading my system with healthy foods, water, and more tea than a British monarch.

I've also recently been making my way through Haruki Murakami's engaging and intelligent memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, where he draws interesting parallels between running and writing.  One discussion that particularly struck me was his belief that writing novels can be a form of a toxin and running is a way to counteract that. Running--embodying physical health--can actually be away to clear mental and emotional toxins as well.  I often feel that running physically purifies me, cleanses me of toxins and brings me energy, but I never connected it also to a concept of mental and emotional toxin.

However, after a recent bout of drunken revelry, during which I acted in ways that I was less than proud of as I spent the next day on the couch struggling to keep any food or water down, I have begun considering other kinds of toxins--those mental and emotional toxins--that I willingly or unknowingly introduce into my body, my mind, and my relationships.

Now, I don't think alcohol is always a toxin (well, at least in small amounts), but as I strive for a life that is healthful and more vibrant, I see now that "detoxing" might need to be more than cutting out sugar and booze for a few days following holiday indulgences. It might mean also freeing myself of behaviors and attitudes that can become toxins for my emotional and mental health, as well as the health of my closest and most vital relationships.

It was in the midst of the last moments of an increasingly hazy night that I realized that my own actions had become a toxin to both myself and to my connection with others.  It may have been coincidental that I immediately wanted to throw up when that realization penetrated my alcohol-addled brain, but I have to wonder.  Since that point, I've been contemplating and considering the other forms that toxins can take and how I might counteract them.  Sure, eating vegetables and drinking lots of water and exercising functions effectively to remove physical toxins from my body, but how can I strive to remove that which might poison in other ways?

Not that I have answers, but a shift in understanding the ways I can be the best human I am capable of seems to be taking place, as well as understanding that my actions not only introduce a toxin to myself, but can also harm the people I love best.  And like a strong body is able to fight off an invasion or a mild toxin, a strong relationship can surely withstand small doses; yet, I do not want to put myself in the position to see where the breaking point is, where the toxins overwhelm the healthy body and cause it to be destroyed.

Friday, January 03, 2014


When I went to the dentist last summer after a three year hiatus, I was terrified that he would find cavities or something terrible. While there were no cavities (yay!), I did get a stern lecture about the necessity of flossing. It turns out that a lot of the mild gum pain I was experiencing was due to not flossing.  So I set out to begin to cultivate a habit of flossing by leaving myself an obnoxious note on my mirror and forcing myself to floss everyday--and actually have managed to become a regular flosser.  It is just part of my routine now, since I'd never go do bed before without brushing me teeth. Now I make sure to both floss and brush before bed, and I have zero gum pain.

I tell this story because I've been thinking of how I can apply this sort of habit-formation in other parts of my life. It was a small action, and it was kind of annoying at first, but I realized that if I set out to alter my behavior in a manageable way, I can do it.

I think the next habit I want to tackle is doing something right away instead of putting it off indefinitely. If it needs to be done, instead of getting all annoyed about how much I don't want to do it, I've been trying to mentally reroute that emotional response and just do the task, focusing instead on the happy feelings of accomplishment afterwards. For instance, I'm terrible about putting off reading and commenting on my students' work because 1) I get busy and want to be able to dedicate time to it, but sometimes 2) it stresses me out. So instead of focusing on the stress and the frustration that I might normally associate with the task, I want to reframe it to focus on the satisfaction of efficiently returning student work and the delight that also comes from reading their work.

Another thing I need to work on not putting off is morning exercise. While I meant to run this morning, I slept so poorly because of CATS and SNORING that I just couldn't get up to run with my running group. What I could have done, however, was gotten up a little bit later and done a slightly shorter run and still have gotten it in, yet I stayed in bed (it was cold!) and then got up to dink around on the Internet (emails! pinterest!). But, if my habit were to just get up and go, then I'd have gotten the run in already and would likely feel much more alert and ready to tackle the work I need to accomplish today.

Successfully forming one small habit, however, has taught me that habits can be created when the goal is specific, and the path is cleared to make creating that habit easier. I need to break these goals down into small, manageable steps until it becomes habitual for me to roll out of bed right away, put on my shoes, and get out the door with little fuss; or, alternately, tackle tasks immediately instead of putting them off and dreading them.