For the Love of Ferries

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“The moment of victory is much too short too live for nothing else.” – Martina Navratilova

This week I discovered the post-run blues. After working up to that 10 kilometer race for 5 weeks, I felt at a loss. I didn’t expect that. I thought I’d feel over the moon about having done it. Instead I felt adrift and sad it was over. After learning from Keri that this is normal, I wondered once again why everything fabulous is followed by the blues. Babies, finishing novels and now wonderful running adventures — all followed by the blues. 

The down I’ve had this week after making it to my goal reminded me of what that great tennis lady said and helped me to remember how fun the process of getting to a goal is. It’s hard to remember sometimes when I’m  in the middle of it but it is truer than the truth. And one of my favorite getting-to-the-goal moment last week was the ferry ride.

Ferry Nostalgia

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest so ferries never seemed unusual me. It’s hard for me to imagine a world without them. The parents often debated as we went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Bainbridge Island from our home on the other side of the Puget Sound. Drive around or (joy or joys!) take the ferry?

In my memory the boring drive around the peninsula won out far too often but every now and then, we’d pay the money, so my sister and I could run from one side of the boat to the other, noticing how the waves played with the prow or the stern and feeling the thrill of the wind at the front of the boat compared to the calm at the back. We never could understand our parents reasoning when they let money keep us packed in a car complaining for the entire hour and a half eternity it took in the days before DVD players, iPods or other such entertainment.

My ferry ride with Keri and her marvelous daughter last Sunday was, once again, one of the best parts of the trip up the the Fort Ebey Kettles Run last Sunday. The day was remarkably beautiful. I can’t say enough about the weather that was supposed to be rain and more rain but turned out to be sparkling sunshine with views of the Olympic mountains dusted with snow.

On With the Run

Ferries are in my dreams and in my memories of that super run where I felt my dad around every corner from the boat to the trails, right along side the trips to my grandparents. The shuddering car toting boats provide a way to get from one place to another, but over the years they’ve taken on more meaning. My only complaint about that Mukilteo-Clinton run is that it’s too dang short. Sort of like the build up to a run, memories of being pregnant, writing the novel (in retrospect) and, the biggest too short ride of all: life.

Here’s to loving our ride, my friends. May we all get to soak up the wind in our faces, watch those waves, let ourselves feel sad it’s over and then move on to our next adventures. Mine will be a mud run with my teenager in March. Now that’s enough to pull me out of the blues, right there. 🙂

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Running with Your Muse: Seven Lessons from my Legs

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This Sunday, I’ll run my first organized 10k.  As I type this first very rough draft out my race is sitting before me like a growling dog on a porch. I want to reach out and pet her but I am afraid she might bite my hand off. But even if I fall flat on the trail in the predicted ‘soaking rain’ I will count the last 5 weeks of training as a success.

Turning away from that dog for a minute (she looks like a Great Dane I once knew but not as sweet) I can see what I’ve learned connects to my muse in ways that surprised  me. I type out here what I’ve learned hoping you can benefit from the pounding I’ve recently given the pavement in my neighborhood.

Even if you’ve never run and never intend to run but would like to create with words, or teach, or ring bells, or make children’s crafts out of cardboard or whatever else drives you to make beauty in the world, I offer up these thoughts to you.

1. Know Deep in Your Soul You Will Do It

This is easier said than done on the cold, rainy days of January and February but more rewarding at the same time. I set in my mind that I will train at a certain time and move forward. If the weather is too horribly awful, I use the treadmill.

I hear my 3 year old say, “But I don’t want you to run!” feel a stab of guilt and then do it anyway, knowing that keeping myself mentally and physically in shape is not going to scar him for life. (But I will say this is part of why I’m not running marathons. At my pace, I need over an hour after work to run those 6 miles and that’s enough time away from household stuff for me. There are, after all, those cardboard houses to build and fascinating Chuggington videos to watch. And guilt to fight off.)

I once read of a man who said, “You just have to know that you will finish your novel.” This has kept me going more than anything else. It works for running, and it works for every large project I feel is worthwhile.

With running, I surfed around and chose a training plan. Even though I might need decide to change it after this race, I feel ready for tomorrow because I stuck to my plan for the last five weeks. My legs are inspiring me to stick to my other plans in life, too.

2. Necessary Naivety

The last time I helped my sister move, we noticed how much more work it was than we had anticipated. I firmly believe that if we remembered how much sweat and agony moving involved no one would ever move again. 

That would be a shame because we’d all be stuck in our same houses in the same neighborhoods forever more without any new adventures or, in my case, furniture.

My sister’s new house is much cuter than her last and worth the effort it took. Great projects like running and writing books are similar. If I clearly understood exactly how much work I set myself up for, my legs, mind and hands would rebel.

Training for this race reminded me that innocence helps me dream big enough to do those marvelous things anyway.

3. The Joy of the Road

Once I get out there, I have a fabulous time. Okay. After the first half mile I have a fabulous time. This pushes me past the horrid before and beginning stage more than anything else. I long to feel that rush of flying and get my body moving quickly into those running pants, so I don’t have to linger in the doldrums of ‘I’m too tired to do this malarkey any longer than necessary.’

And, once my feet hit that road, I feel invested even during the more difficult parts. I find ways to build myself up (like imagining the trees cheering me on) and refuse to give up until I’ve finished my 4 miles because, damn it, I have already finished three!

Writing is the same or it can be if I remember that the feeling of the keys is infinitely better than surfing Facebook while knowing I should be writing instead. And once I get going, I push forward to completing because if I don’t polish the work and send it out to the world, it sits unseen on my computer or in my closet teetering with notebooks.

4. The Awesome Power of Another Run Down

And once I’ve got that run done, I feel like an Olympic champion. Two weeks ago, I was using Run Keeper to track myself with a little voice over lady telling me my distance and pace every 5 minutes. I wanted to keep that pace under 11 minutes like I wanted to win the gold or something.

When I finished at an average 10:58 minutes per mile, I whooped out loud before I even knew what I was doing. Fortunately, there were no small dogs walking their people to feel frightened by me and my whooping.

Although I’ve never whooped when I get the sentence right (yet), I can feel myself lifting up every time I finish a write or post on the blog. That “I did it” feeling picks me up and carries me far into my day with the rest of its ups and downs.

5. People Power

My mother always said we were not meant to be alone and the older I get, the more I see what she means. My husband and older son keep cheering on this running business. My three year old has even gotten used to it. My cousin Keri gave me the crazy wonderful idea to do this in the first place.

Writing is the same. It’s on my bucket list to find a critique group or partner for those novels like me spiritual writing group for my essays. I know I need them and, in truth, I know I have something to offer them, too.

6. Don’t Be a Jerk – Keep your Promises to Your Legs and Muse

It’s tempting sometimes to run on those days off or to push a half mile further. But I don’t. I stop where I promised myself I would and can feel my legs thanking me in my next run.

The same goes for my other big projects. I take Fridays off. Sometimes I still write, but only on things I enjoy. My muse comes out better for me when I’m not hitting her mentally with a horse whip.

7. The Race that Matters

I’ll end my pre-run comparison here with a quote from Hunter S. Thompson:

“Marathon running, like golf, is a game for players, not winners. That is why Callaway sells golf clubs and Nike sells running shoes. But running is unique in that the world’s best racers are on the same course, at the same time, as amateurs, who have as much chance of winning as your average weekend warrior would scoring a touchdown in the NFL.”

I love the parts of life where I let go of being the best or even very good and am able to dig into the sheer joy of doing better for myself right now. That’s when my legs go the extra mile and that’s when I’m happiest with my writing.

Do wish me luck for my run in the soaking rain on an island that has caught my writing imagination by it’s tail. I am working up my courage to pet that Great Dane and need all the people power you can send.

In return, I will hit that trail sending you all blessings on your own adventures.

 

Blogging Resolutions in February

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I’ve spoken to a lot of people lately about why I blog but it occurred to me that writing my purpose into my blog might be a good idea, too. So, in the spirit of my 30 day blog revision and a belated New Year effort, here I am  with a ‘purpose’ statement. I’m writing it in my most challenging non-fiction format: the interview. Of course, no one is interviewing me for this piece but me…

Why are you blogging, rather than keeping a personal journal?

First and foremost, I blog because I it brings me joy. I enjoy looking for stories from my week that might mean something to someone else and write them. I love that I can self publish those stories and people will resonate with my words or not. I get to move on to the next story regardless. I do a little inner dance knowing I have one week to come with an idea, write it up, fix it, polish it and then move on to the next. The whole process keeps me writing when things like finding someone to buy a story, looking up their guidelines, reading their back issues, submitting and then waiting half an eternity for them to reject me (or not even respond) 90 percent of the time keeps my fingers far away from the keyboard.

I have found that, just like playing my clarinet for an audience rather than to my office chair, I step up my game when I know someone else is listening. Improving my writing is my biggest reason to blog instead of filling up spiral notebooks and stacking them in my closet (which I also do).

Oh, and I get a motivational lift when people tell me they have read what I’ve written and that it mattered to them. So if you are one of those people, please keep telling me. Your words matter to me, too.

What topics do you think you’ll write about?

So far I’ve blogged about my everyday life. That’s involved mostly:

  • teaching English as a second language
  • creativity
  • spirituality
  • book reviews

I imagine writing much of the same this year but I may stretch myself or even create a recurring feature of some sort. I’m tossing around the idea of word origins or other linguistic topics. I’ve also considered making videos but considering is as far as I’ve made it with the idea of fussing with cameras and then seeing myself on the internet moving and breathing and making mistakes outside of spelling.

Who would you love to connect with via your blog?

With this blog, I would absolutely love to connect to people who find meaning in my stories, both the stories of my everyday and the fictional stories I write. In a revealing exercise, I went through my Facebook friends and picked out the people I write for. (For whom I write? My inner grammar teacher tells me that’s correct, but the normal person in me cannot use ‘whom.’ I’m sure that says something about how I want to write, too.)

I noticed as I did this that many people I am friends with on Facebook and in real life probably won’t connect with my writing. They are wonderful, caring people with different lives and interests. I’m sure they are okay with this, and so am I.

If you blog successfully throughout 2014, what would you hope to have accomplished?

Blogging successfully in 2014 looks like creating a space for me to connect deeply with many who need the words I have to give and loving what I’m doing. It might also involve connecting with more bloggers, creating groups that meet and work with one another, an actual editorial calendar with regular features and forming an online class. I’d like to do something with my fiction,too, but am not sure what this will look like. For now those stories are bouncing around the traditional publishing world.

Finally, to keep myself from getting overwhelmed at the idea of ‘blogging success’ I’ll end with a quote from Winston Churchill that my colleague recently put up on her wall:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

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What Richard Sherman and Harry Potter Have in Common

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The Seahawks and the words in a story. The two don’t seem to have much in common, but experiencing the buildup to the Superbowl within a few miles of Seattle’s epicenter has me thinking of crazy connections.

Many years ago I took a fiction writing class through the University of Washington. The instructor and the text informed me that, in order to write good fiction, I had to use conflict. And the higher the stakes, the better the tale. If the character fought death itself, this would be the best story of all.

I decided then and there that fiction was not for me. Secretly, I still loved reading it and tried to ignore that conflict pulled me into and through all of my most favorite tales from THE UGLY DUCKLING and IS THIS THE HOUSE OF MISTRESS MOUSE  to THE HOBBIT, the Harry Potter series and THE DAVINCI CODE.

But I would not be a part of writing such things, thank you very much. I needed to keep myself above all of that. I needed to focus on compassion and altruism and things like that there.

I squeezed my eyes shut to my need to write and look at fiction in the face until my life hit me full on with it’s own conflict. Until I could no longer avoid the conflict deep within all that is around me. I could be a vegetarian, sure. But the animals I refused to eat still ate each other. Plants have feelings to some degree or another, and I must eat something.

On top of that, I lost babies in miscarriages and in other ways too difficult to explain in this post.  After life brought me so low I could not get off the couch, a novel saved me. A story with life and death stakes. A story where the main characters discover things about themselves while running from bad guys attempting to kill them in unspeakable ways.

Saying a story saved me sounds exaggerated but it’s not. I remember that couch and that book holding me in this world when nothing else would. And then I remember picking up my pen to save myself once more by writing words I needed to hear.

That escape from the prison of my own mind Neil Gaiman described in my last post let me find light. And the only way for me to get to that light was to sink into a story while the thing that pulled me through that story was – you guessed it – conflict. Shooting and stabbings and burnings and other such dreck.

Like Greg Garrett, I feel deeply torn about cheering for my team to bash the other. But another part of me knows that the conflict drawing us in holds blessings in the shape of good deeds and a wonder that is a community.

So as I watch the Seahawks move to this battle full of hits and tackles like the one that took out my sweet husband’s knee umpteen years ago, I step back and see, too, the joy that it’s bringing the people around me: The kids in their green and blue. My friends Ginny and Robin in their a Capella singing group on MSNBC. The happiness that is a sporting event that pulls people together in parties with nachos and laughter.

Only a blend of bookworm and sometime football fan could pull this up but, for what it’s worth, here are five things football players and story characters have in common: 

1. The stakes are high. Both Harry Potter and Richard Sherman could die in the fight. Really. This, I know, is not the best reason we watch or read but it is a driving force that we cannot deny. I think admitting it helps us work through it.

2. They are fighting to win. Maybe the characters will not get what they want or the players will not catch the ball but, in trying, they win my heart as long as they do it with some semblance of grace and chutzpah.

3. The antagonists of a story and the other team (those Broncos this time) also have my sympathy on some level. It’s part of the conflict to be able to identify with the other side and be able imagine what it feels like to be on the other side.

4. The football game, just like a story, has a beginning, a middle and an end with a climax and even an epilogue. If the Seahawks win, it will be hard to get enough of the play by plays afterward. If my team loses, I will shut off the TV and make a bigger plate of nachos while listening to my brother-in-law grouse about officials. (In stories, I shut the book and complain to my family about how I hated THAT ending).

5. Players and characters become better through the effort. This is something I think draws us all into the games and stories. We love to see others grow and cross our fingers that we are doing the same in the stories and games of our own lives.

Yes, I’ll be watching on Sunday. I’ll see the giant young men slam into each other while the better part of me cringes when the players are injured as I know they will be. But I’ll also celebrate that we have something to cheer for. Something that gets us talking and pulls us from our lows to find yet another story. This one happens to play out on a screen rather than between the pages of a book.

Go Hawks! And may we all find the best in ourselves whether we win or lose the conflict that brought us to the game or story in the first place.