Wednesday, June 04, 2014

one challenge ends a new one begins

I ended the barre3 spring challenge in a bit more lamely than I'd hoped--I slipped out of my good nutrition habits, which definitely impaired the initial gains I'd made. HOWEVER, the challenge was, ultimately a success. I gave up coffee--and learned that it was inhibiting my sleep. I gained strength (and worked out a lot). And, best of all, I learned more about how I ought to approach things and gained some new friends in studio and online.  It was fantastic.

In fact, I'm now working for the local studio, so I'm there more than ever, and I'm loving it. It's wonderful to be able to take on a new role in an organization that I'm such a huge fan of, supporting friends.

But really, while this post begins with a nod toward the physical/health challenge I took on this past month, I want to talk about a larger, more pressing challenge: dissertation (and publication).

I have begun writing my dissertation, continuing to gather data. (I began transcribing today, and though I know it'll get easier, it was TORTURE. But then again, as I'm transcribing, I'm thinking about the data with fresh eyes, so that's kind of cool). Today I transcribed. Yesterday I wrote several pages and outlined several chapters, getting some good feedback from my adviser.  Tomorrow will be more writing and transcribing, meeting up with a fellow dissertator (we are egging each other on this summer to WRITE).

I also joined up with an online group, and have pledged to submit some job materials (the other major summer writing challenge) by the middle of the month. Much work to be done, indeed!

Despite the large amount of challenges on my plate, I am finding a rhythm of work and writing and play, a balance between writing and working to earn money, between working (generally) and taking care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. It turns out that when I'm making progress on my work, I'm not berating myself for lazing around my house all day.

I'm hoping to break the cycle of summer lazies, where summer flows by in one undifferentiated mass, a summer that before I know it is gone, and I'm faced with the inevitable pressures the fall will bring. This year, a new one will loom large: the job search. It is my hope to tackle it with my best energy and to emerge triumphant, job in hand by graduation in May, not to mention a dissertation defended and articles submitted and published. These are my goals, and they are steps toward the scholarly life that I'm finally learning how to fully embrace.

Monday, April 28, 2014

spring challenge

As readers of this blog know, I'm always a sucker for a challenge. I like the idea of setting forth to accomplish something--probably why I love running so much!--and seeing where it takes me, even if I fail to fully meet my goals. So when barre3 announced their spring challenge, I was interested. But I wasn't immediately on board.

You see, I am fond of challenges where I strive to eat a bit better and work out a bit more, but I'm reluctant to commit to giving up my coffee and my wine. And since this one requires the purchase of the kit, my internal penny pincher was at war with my eagerness to dive in. I waffled for a bit and actually decided not to--until several folks on Instagram and in studio started talking about it. Then I got excited.

Mostly.

I am committing to giving up coffee and alcohol (mostly because I'm curious on how it'll affect my sleep and energy, and thereby productivity), which doesn't excite me especially since the challenge ends AFTER a wedding and a fun cabin weekend. But I know I don't need to drink to have fun with people, and I've been getting vicious hangovers after small amounts of alcohol.  The coffee...well, we'll see how I do without the coffee. This week, I'm trying to cut down to a 1/2 cup and then drink tea, and this weekend, I'm going without it completely and switching to black or green tea. So I'll still have some caffeine...but no coffee.

Anyway, so starting May 5th, I'll be challenging. And if you see me saying no to coffee and wine, don't ask me if I'm pregnant (I'm not), just nod and smile and think that maybe I'm a bit out of my mind for beginning the post-spring semester period without drinking. And maybe I am--but, as I'll discuss later, my goals for this challenge are a little different from the typical reasons one might tackle a challenge like this, and I hope the focus needed to maintain this challenge will carry over into focus in other places, like dissertation writing and sleeping well.

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?