Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What do you do with a drunken sailor?

I knew I would write this morning, because I dreamt of Mark last night. It was like a visual reminder, if you want to write, do it every day, something he told me and we all found out he definitely did when we cleaned out his house. Mark was riding around in the back of an old Nissan Sentra, one with bumper stickers plastered all of over the back of it. This car exists in my real-time life. It belongs to one of the women at the farm that drives me crazy. Mark was there, arm draped over the back of the seat, leather jacket, white shirt, singing in a Bob Dylan twang to my friend Staci. Staci, was laughing loudly, and glancing alternately at Mark in the rear view mirror and to her right at me in the passenger seat.

Our destination was some sort of cookout. Mark headed for the barbecue and didn’t come back for the rest of the dream. Staci and I sat at a long picnic table, laughing about something and were joined by a couple, a couple that clearly couldn’t find any other place to sit, judging by how uncomfortable they seemed sitting with us. It only got worse, when Mandy arrived, plate in hand, her well behaved food sitting in its sections ever so careful to not touch. Soon enough, the couple disappeared too. I cannot blame anyone in my dreams or my real world that feels the desire to evaporate when I am with these two women. It’s a little bit like watching twins that have their own language. There is a divider, while not meant to be entirely exclusionary, it does create a space between the us, and the not us.

There was no major revelation in this dream. I had no great insight, or million dollar idea. The world’s greatest novel was not born in this dream last night. I do think it had a message for me. You see, yesterday, was one of those damn days, the ones where I feel that everything I touch turns to complete crap. Where even looking back, what’s in the rear view mirror looks like ruin, both the places and the people. Right about 4 pm I hated absolutely everything about the last 20 or so years. I couldn’t find a nugget of goodness in myself or my ‘doings.’ Fortunately, I know that these days come and they go. I still find them hard to deal with and in truth, spend most of them crying and feeling inept and without value. I think, the dream was reminding me of those who love (d) me the most, those that do see the good in me, even at my worst. I think I needed that reminder, because it is now, during winter, that I can be dragged into believing there is no good, no hope, left in the world.

There is in fact, a poem that ends with this line “nothing now can ever come to any good” it is a poem about losing someone, and the first time I heard it I felt as though it had been etched into my sunburned skin with a shard of broken glass. It is an amazing thing, the power words strung together just so can have. I only need to think of the poem, the images it creates in my head, some memories, some conjured by the words, and I am standing outside a funeral home in Fairfax Virginia on the coldest day of my life while a man named Archer sits inside at long shiny wooden dining table talking to my mother and sisters about “the remains.” I left before I punched him, but not before I reminded him that the remains had a goddamn name.

I felt better this morning, just a little. I suppose it could have been the dream, or just the bright sunshine through the blinds and the cold dog nose pressed to my forearm. In that, there is hope to share.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Meet me in Banner Elk next October.

Fat black sharpie in hand, I crossed off yesterday’s date on my calendar this morning, mentally ticking off the days until the new year. Just four to go. I thought briefly about the past year, about the big things that have happened, and wondered even more briefly what 2010 would hold. Usually, I just feel hopeful at the end of a year, this year, there’s a good bit more fear mixed in. A month or so ago, I met with a real estate agent, got a rough, non-official appraisal on my house, just in case I need to put it on the market this spring. I told myself then, as I do each time I tell this fact to someone, I’d rather sell my house than lose it. It’s true, but it makes me unspeakably sad. I don’t know that I had envisioned the step that came after this little Cape Cod house, but I feel confident it was never, ever, leave it before I lose it. Deciding it was too early for such dark thoughts; I poured another cup of coffee and headed for the couch.

The early darkness of winter makes me nuts and truth be told, a little sad. I don’t know that I’m one of those people that are truly affected by the lack of sunlight, but my spirits sure are. Yesterday morning, sick of just about everything, I shoved myself out the door to the gym, determined to chase the winter doldrums away. I took a new class, one whose ad has one of those perfectly sculpted females on it, and the slogan “Pressure makes diamonds.” This, to a different person, would have been a clue. In early November, I got a horrible cold, worst one I’ve had in years, knocked me back for a good 3 weeks. On Thanksgiving Day when I went to run the turkey trot, I hadn’t run a step in roughly 2.5 weeks. I had no grand hopes; and that turned out to be a very good thing. I ended that run a full 5 minutes slower than the year previous, but with a really cool shirt (purple, with a turkey on it!) and a flier for North Carolina’s newest marathon. I wore the shirt on Thanksgiving Day. I put the flier on my desk and looked at it nearly every day. A week or so ago, I pulled it out and mapped out a training schedule for the half-marathon. I am not mentally ready for school, work (I hope) and full marathon training; the half will have to do. The week starting tomorrow is week 1.

Twelve weeks from now, I hope to have been successful in consistently training for 13.1 miles. I hope 2010 looks better than it did early this morning. If I have put my house on the market I hope it’s because I cashed in a winning lottery ticket, and am moving to Belize, or perhaps, just because I got a job offer somewhere else and am moving by choice, not out of necessity and fear.

Someone told me a few weeks ago that those wooly bear caterpillars are predictors of winter weather, if they have a lot of brown and very little black it means that we are in for a hard winter. Curious about this I went looking for more information and discovered that right here in North Carolina (Banner Elk to be exact) there is actually a Wooly Worm Festival in which the highlight is a Wooly Worm race which ends with the Mayor pronouncing the winner (no doubt he has to pronounce it loudly to wake the spectators) and examining the caterpillar and declaring the winter weather forecast. However bizarre this information, there is some scientific research that backs this up. The one I was examining that day a few weeks ago was nearly all brown. Even without a mayor to pronounce it, it appears this winter is going to be long one. I suppose you can’t argue with a wooly bear caterpillar. So, I won’t. I will hope, just a little more this year than in years past, for a correspondingly brighter spring.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside.

I am struck by the parallels between writing and running. Every question a hopeful runner asks themselves,, is the same a hopeful writer asks.
“How do I get better/stronger/faster?”
“How often should I do it?”
“What do I need?”
“When am I a ‘real’ runner/writer?”

When doubt is winning the war, these turn into declarative statements,
“I’ll never be better/stronger/faster.
“I don’t have enough time to work on it.”
“I don’t have what I need.”
“I’ll never be a real runner/writer.”

This may not be news to anyone. For me it is a reminder. A reminder that running was and still is hard, and that I am capable of hard things.

In running, you just lace up your shoes and get to stepping. I know this because I did it. Less than 24 hours after I quit smoking, I started running.

Now, approaching 5 years later, it is those earliest runs I repeat in my head when I need encouragement. I still see myself, in those blue addidas running pants with the 3 white stripes down the side heading down into the weird part of my old neighborhood, the part where all the houses were dark brown wood duplexes, and there were no street lights. At 4 am, it was dark down there. That part, despite being all downhill, was often the hardest part, to this day, the first 3 to 5 minutes of nearly every run, still feels like a really bad idea.

The next long stretch of road was all flat, full of weird 4 way stops, and the house that was in the news, an elderly lady died there that summer, and no one knew for a very long time. Well, no one except her 47 cats. The entire house had to be demolished. For months, it was just a large dirt spot in between houses. A dirt spot that, I swear, still smelled like cat urine. It was here I got my rhythm, where I got my first inklings of what I thought a ‘real runner’ felt like. I have found little else in the world like the power of moving through t he world powered only by my own feet and brain, and maybe a little Rob Zombie. I remember running along this road, wondering if people would look out their windows as they started their coffee pot, see me, and think 'look at that crazy runner’. I hoped so.

The third stretch of these runs was my nemesis. The hill at E. Maple. Initially, I couldn’t run up even one quarter of it. That changed over time, with practice.

The last stretch, quite literally the home stretch, past the elementary school and the Getty-mart, down the street that ran right to my little condo and the visitors parking lot where I would cool down and stretch. Still alone, still in the dark.

Many more runs came after these first ones, many races too. Yet, it is these practice runs my mind returns to when I struggle with running, and now with writing.

I would quite staunchly defend myself to anyone who declared me not a ‘real runner’ because I can’t run a 7 or even 8 minute mile. I run, therefore I am a runner. The clock does not define me. It may define them, or maybe not them, but something in their world that is important to them. I can, now, let go of that. I have met those people, at races, on the trails, even in shoe stores, they can’t be bothered with so called recreational runners, they have splits to make consistent, or better, to make negative. They have qualifying times to meet; and other very important runner-things to do. I am wasting my time in their eyes. It’s good that I am not looking at myself through their eyes. I see them as dedicated, competent, passionate, and in love with the thing that running has become for them, and not so much the act of running itself. I could be wrong about this.

When I sit down to write, it becomes a lesson in truth-telling. Will I say what I really feel about something – or will I be cowed by the possibility of discovery, and what those that discover it will say, think, feel about me because of the words on the page.

My brother once wrote a poem, a poem that he said was a lesbian, and that poem fucked many other woman poems. He said it, just like that. He wrote it, it was published, and he gave, sold and distributed that book to friends, family, even our parents(!), students, and strangers. He had no fear of saying exactly what he meant, of being exactly who he was.

I think my question about writing isn’t when will I be a real writer, but when will I brave enough to expose the real me. When will I whip out my promiscuous poems (lesbian or otherwise) with pride and not fear?

The truth is I don’t know. So in the meantime, I will follow the path that made me a real runner.

I’ll practice.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Deify Plums!

I drink coffee at all times of the day – but that first cup, that morning coffee, is always the best cup. When I lived alone, I used to start the pot brewing, clean up the kitchen from whatever detritus was left from the previous night, and take that first cup out on the back deck with my young dog and his favorite toy.
Since he was very young, a simple game of fetch has been a winner for this dog. So, I would drink my coffee with one hand and throw the toy with the other. My coffee comes in a cup; his comes, most often, in the form of red rubber Kong toy. When the cup was empty the game was done for the morning. I had things to do, a shower to take, a job to get ready for.

Since I lost my job in July, that game of fetch can come randomly, at any time of the day. When I have freelance work, it’s sometimes what I do to clear my head when I’ve been agonizing over something I’m supposed to analyze and interpret in nice, objective, scientific text. This randomness has driven this poor dog of mine nearly over the edge. Now, if you so much as twitch in the direction of the back door, he’s through the dog door like a rocket, whining, craning his neck toward the kitchen sink, desperate to see you, toy in hand, following him out the back door. You can practically hear his little hear pounding in anticipation. It’s hard to let him down.

This morning, I woke up a full hour and then some earlier than I have been since July. I started the coffee pot, cleaned up the kitchen, found my boots and the red rubber Kong. He had not forgotten. We played fetch in the cold and dark, on the hard ground, bright stars overhead. I watched my breath rise above me and his plume out around him as he ran to the far corner of the yard, chasing his toy. Frost made the ground shine in the fluorescent light, and crunch under his feet and mine. We played till my fingers got numb. He was ready for more; I was only ready for more coffee.