A couple of weeks ago, I decided to try and shave 2 minutes off my mile run. We never had anything like the Presidential Fitness Challenge at my school growing up, and I feel horribly robbed of an opportunity to commiserate with kids all across the country. All I remember about middle school gym was the archery unit, which strangely, our teachers opted to hold inside the gym rather than on the sprawling outdoor field next to it. Am I the only one who thinks that sounds like a safety hazard? The point is, while I may run a shitty mile, I could maybe take out a dangerous criminal if they were at very close range and happened to be robbing the bow and arrow store where I’d dipped in to use the bathroom. So even though shaving off this time was my idea, I’m finding the process miserable. I don’t practice by myself, so the only time I actually run the mile for time’s sake is at the twice a week sessions I have with a personal trainer. I show up, bloated and a little nauseated from the 20 oz bag of M&M’s I’ve been meticulously disarming at work, and I think back to the last session and how bad I felt while I was running. And all I can think is, well, Hallie, you’ve got to beat that time today, so however bad last session felt? This is going to be WAY worse. My complaints run a cycle you could set your archery schedule to. About a 1/4 of a mile in (on the treadmill of course), I tell my trainer “I’m so hot. Can you please turn on the fan?” A 1/3 of the mile, there’s an edge of desperation in my voice when I tell him, “You have to talk to me. You can’t just stand there.” By 2/3s in, it’s, “I really don’t (gasp) feel well! I’m going to (gasp) puke!” Then I start thinking,, I’m not going to puke. I’m going to shit my pants all over this treadmill, and then slip in my own waste and go hurdling into the dumbbells, which will find some way to knock out my front teeth. See, Hallie? This is why you don’t spend 5 years living in a city without nailing down a fucking dentist! And where are you going to get the milk you’re supposed to use to soak the teeth the dumbbells just knocked out on the way to the dentist you don’t have?! At this point in my hysteria, I’ve only got a 1/10 of a mile left, and my trainer has put the speed so high that my brain shorts out like an old appliance. My legs feel like they don’t belong to me. This is the hard part about having goals. Reaching each week’s milestone doesn’t make me feel strong. It only highlights the gurgling stomach and the burning legs that say, “This wasn’t easy! Remember how ugly it could have turned out?!” And present week’s self looks back at last week’s scoffing, “wow, you thought that was hard? Pathetic.” And then I peer down a tunnel of training sessions, and I want to yell at the external force driving me to do this, “When is it enough?! When will I be fast enough for you to leave me alone and let me enjoy my workout mix without constantly cranking up the speed?” Of course, there is no external force. The external force is me. And the answer is 2 minutes, 2 minutes is enough because that’s what you set out to do. And when you get there, you can jog in peace, and maybe channel some of that residual angst toward that “reviving the old blog” goal you set. But for today, be a writer who can run a 7:30 mile. For today, that is quite enough.
Epel says, "It is important to identify your own needs as a writer so that the writing process can serve a deep purpose inside you."
In the house where I grew up, we were encased. Our hedge was so tall that I had to use a step-ladder to trim its tops. That was my job, taking care of the yard. My father pawned it off on me when he got sick of paying Than, the lawn care “freelancer” who rang our doorbell when it snowed or the grass got patchy.
In the winter when we had snow days, my brother and I built forts, one on either side of the yard, and spent the day in unsupervised combat. There were no time outs. We threw icy snowballs. Cars inching along our side street so as not to skid got the ones we didn’t dare throw at each other.
One spring, we tried to plant a paltry cherry tree in the middle of the yard. A cousin mistook it for a stick and ripped it right out of the ground. We tried to plant a sunflower next to the hedge, but it got no sun.
Inside the yard, little girls and I (a little girl too) popped snails and ruined anthills. So many bugs displaced at our hands! We mashed my father’s irises into love potions. One of the rougher neighborhood girls taught me to write “FUCK YOU” in chalk on the sidewalk. My mother caught us and made me scrub it off alone with dish soap, while my accomplice wandered home without punishment. In winter, we covered the hedge in white lights.
When I was 21, my parents tried to cart my sister off to jail. Before the police arrived, she walked right out the front door. There in the yard, my father reached out to stop her. Hold on to her. She bit him. Like wild animals do.
By the time I got home, there were squad cars parked on the street. Front gate hanging half open, like a loose tooth. Neighbors with strollers craning their necks for a better look as they passed. So this is what we must have looked like from the outside.
I am terrible at small talk. It strikes me a trait women should be able to maneuver. When a new person talks to me I am so nervous my listening skills dissolve. I am thinking, what can I say next to endear this person to me, entice them into friendship? But how can one possibly know another, when they are too anxious over being liked to tune into the other’s frequency?
There are a few people I telephone. My brother, my mother. Rarely my father, who is just deaf enough to get irritable when he can’t see your lips moving. The thought of phoning others strikes me as exhausting.
We sold the house, to a family who didn’t move in right away. They left the Christmas lights up through June, didn’t cut the grass. Started to paint the window trim, changed their minds. No matter where I am, I often get the feeling that I am standing in the dark, pressing my nose to someone else’s window.
In an effort to resuscitate this blog, I’m putting on display my newest writing project, a series of exercises from Naomi Epel’s “Observation Deck.” Tonight I drew my first card (meant to “jump start creativity,”) this is what it prompted:
Card #1: ACT SUCCESSFUL – Epel says, “Imagine a future in which you have become the writer you always wanted to be. You are living the way you want to live in a place filled with things that you love. Let this future reassure the present that everything will work out.”
Welcome to my apartment! Come in! That? Up there? That’s the roof garden. I’m a real green thumb. My herbs have made it through several rainstorms. Of course I use those planters with holes in the bottom. What kind of a monster would overlook a plant’s basic need for circulation? All my planters are incredibly breathable. And those are brussels sprouts. Yes, they’re very hard to grow.
Would you like a drink? I wouldn’t mind one. It’s nice to let down your hair once in a while. As responsible mothers, how often do we get the chance? Isn’t being a mother fulfilling? Especially because we are so damn good at it.
I keep the scotch in that globe over there. Yes, it opens into a bar! Several times when I was younger, I tried to learn about scotch, and always forgot everything I was taught the second after I learned it. I nearly gave up. Then one day, I thought, maybe I’ll give it one more shot, and you wouldn’t believe it but these days I’m known as New York’s premier scotch connoisseur. The whole experience encouraged me to challenge what I believed to be my limits.
Oh, thank you. You look wonderful too. During my pregnancy, I was diligent about my pre-natal yoga. Yoga really relaxes me. Helps me sleep. No, I don’t have those sleeping problems anymore.
Yes, I still keep in touch with her. Her too. I’m lucky that way, to have kept so many people I love close to me.
These are my books, I feel silly showing them to you. You don’t think it’s impolite, do you? I just hoped you genuinely wanted to see them. Short stories, about strong women. They sound silly when I describe them that way.
I used to think I was meant to be an unhappy person. It was probably because of my age. Mid-twenties. Maybe everyone feels unhappy at that age and just doesn’t talk about it. I thought a light inside me had burned out, like I was some broken refrigerator and all my insides were rotting in the still, stinky air trapped behind the door. I used to have a lot of boyfriends, and they would say “Tell me what you’re thinking! Why don’t you talk to me?!” But I’d be afraid, that everything inside me had turned, had curdled, they they’d be disgusted if I opened up.
And then one day, I didn’t have anymore boyfriends. And I thought, the only company I have is broken down old Me. So I just had to get over it. Because really, hating yourself is just a way of freezing time, of not taking care of what needs to happen next. I wanted to be made of wax. To stand outside myself rattling off judgments: Her arms are too skinny! Her waist is too thick! She is too quiet, too mean, too young for that gray streak on the right side of her hairline.
Let me pour you that drink. I would apologize for digressing, but I don't feel comfortable being sorry about something so trivial.
At first, I had to keep moving. I had to make the bed and wash the dishes and sweep the floor even if I’d swept it yesterday and hadn’t walked across it to track any dirt in since. It was important not to pause, because in pausing I might remind myself: you are terribly lonely. And a thought like that could discourage a girl from sweeping the floor, because maybe she thinks that dirt is her only company.
Is that drink too strong? Oops! I should have added water. You'd think I was an amateur.
That loneliness, it goes away! Not until much later of course. But at a point, you just get tired of moving so fast all the time. And so little by little, you slow down. And then one day, you rest. And in resting you suddenly realize, you’re able to sit with yourself.
When you no longer care about the Grammys, you’ve lost your capacity for joy. You feel wronged? I understand that. Outraged. I sympathize. But those are all feelings, and to have them is thrilling in itself. At least your little heart is pounding. P!nk hung from the roof of the Staples Center by a ribbon, people. She twirled, dunked, and in spite of it all, belted not one single breathless phrase. Do you know what kind of endurance that takes? What kind of dedication to your craft? And yet today, I faced this curmudgeon talking point: “Why do we need our singers to act like the friggin Cirque du Soleil?” Of course we don’t need them to, and yet, to our overwhelming good fortune, they can. Doesn’t that put in perspective the pool of talent from which we pluck our pop artists? It is a vaudeville ocean into which we get to cast our nets, distractedly, lazily, only to wrastle up Gagas and Beyonces and even the rarest of P!nk fish. How fortunate are we. So let’s just run our fingers over the texture of the matter. These greats are on the menu! Can we take a moment to be thankful for swinging a reservation? Now, seriously, fuck Taylor Swift. I was sympathetic when Kanye embarrassed the trembling little thing at the VMAs. I thought, poor kid. Give her one of those popcorn statues to jazz up her horseback ribbon shelf. But where was Kanye last night after Beyonce busted her ass through an outrageous “If I were a Boy”/”You Oughta Know” medley only to concede album of the year to Fearless? I’m sorry, what exactly makes you fearless? Was it dancing so “silly” in your “You Belong to Me” video with those “dorky” Sally Jessie Raphael glasses? I’m not trying to be cruel. But, Taylor, sweet, young Taylor. You know that Stevie Nicks used to get coke blown up her ass by a midget, right? Bitch used to have some street cred. And you’ve got her singing back up for your song about nerd pining? Why do I feel like last night was only more than a fairytale for one of you? I’ll just say one more thing, because it must be said. Yes, Gaga was robbed. But two strong points (I can say that because they were made by my boyfriend, not me.) One, making the people sitting behind her negotiate that hat was not good Grammy karma. Two, it should have been Gaga’s year, she played her little butt off on that scorched piano, but it just wasn’t. And good that it wasn’t. It’ll keep her hungry.
Early on in college, I dated a guy whose body odor bore an uncanny resemblance to cat urine. Smells aside, he was a wonderful boy. But I remember suggesting that maybe he shouldn’t ride his bike around so much, as bikes lead to sweat and sweat led to a vivid sense-memory of the corner in my basement where Muffin used to mark her territory. (Do cats mark their territory?)
“Isn’t it so cool though,” He responded thoughtfully, “To think of your body as its own little motor? To think that I’m getting around everywhere powered by my very own energy?”
Oh smelly thing, your passing poetry shook me out of my slumber! And a decade later, tearing up at the last paragraphs of Born to Run by Christopher MacDougall, I felt it again. (The book's title doesn't hurt.)
Why didn’t I read this book for the marathon? Just imagining the Tarahumara, a group of super-human runners indigenous to Mexico’s Copper Canyon, gliding over parched Chihuahua terrain would have gotten my feet moving way faster than writing my name on my shirt. Once puny school boys become ultra-marathon champions. Girls school boys on 150 miles runs with Mountain Dew and Pizza to fuel their tanks.
The booked also marked my first attempt to solicit Facebook friendship from a stranger. Jenn Sheldon, if you’re reading, I probably don’t seem any less lame, do I? I guess a blogpost doesn’t get you much closer to a person than a status update. Oh well, keep pounding that pavement, baby!
I hope you guys know, I mean I hope you REALLY know, P!nk’s not like those other girls. She’s told you so, (see “Hazard to Myself” verse three: “tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears. She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me.”) But if I may, I like to fancy myself a bit of an emotional barometer for pop cultural icons. My reactions to those who parade about the top 100 are rapt and sincere. So for the week at least, P!nk is my “it” girl. I lay in bed on Sunday evening with the TV on, thinking I was staring down the glowing embers of a weekend. I’d hosted a house party, unclogged my drain, called the super to repair my busted fridge. What else was there for me? I thought, until P!nk’s “Behind the Music” burrowed through the haze of my nappiness. She rescued Linda Perry from has-been obscurity! She shirked gender norms and proposed to her husband! She can do aerial ballet, and that’s really hard. I once saw a woman fall from her ribbons in the middle of a Cirque Du Soleil show. Sure, there are plenty of teenage girls whose teachers slip them copies of The Bell Jar, who discover Ani di Franco by tuning in to their town’s college radio station. But the girls who don’t scratch beyond the surface of Mix 107.5 deserve strong female role models too. Sunday night, I watched a woman grapple with the professional goals, romantic turbulence, jealousy, neediness, and the human spirit triumphed! No fame bullshit. No agenda. She didn’t smash one reporter’s car face a single possession charge. She was just a girl tryin’ to make it this world. Oh P!nk, empowered and vulnerable, career woman and care-giver. This week, in moments of weakness, I shall draw from your strength.
I’ve never been nine months pregnant, but I imagine it feels something like counting down the hours to the New York City Marathon. You’re not ready! Sure, you read the books, you did the stretching, you ate for two. But somewhere in the dustiest corner of the darkest closet of the smallest apartment in the high rise of your brain, you suspect it isn’t enough. All these months of training, you’ve struggled through the messiest of relationships with your body. Some mornings, the two of you were hands missing the hi-five. Well-rested, properly fueled and loose, your legs seemed to resent your very attachment to them. What did I do? You wonder. You know what you did. They’re whispering below the rhythm of your heavier-than-usual STOMP STOMP STOMP. Other mornings, it’s like your legs sent you flowers, just because. What did I do? You wonder. You know what you did! They’re beaming as they pull you along like you’re maneuvering ice instead of the trash and dog poop of a New York City street. You’ve put your faith in your legs, but let’s face it: your legs are some moody little bitches. You’re emotional. You’re a grown woman, but you find yourself calling your parents every night, walking them through the details of your smallest new physical sensation. And because they love you, they patiently pretend like they care, offering encouraging questions like “Oh? What part of the heel?” All this dependency on your parents is stirring up other vintage habits. Admit it, you downloaded Little Earthquakes last night, didn’t you? Now you know, running through tears of nostalgia makes it pretty tough to gasp a proper breath. You’re exhausted, but you can’t sleep. You have to pee all the time. Nobody knows how you feel! You’re too antsy to keep your mind on one task for too long. But you know this: what you’re about to do is going to be a huge pain-in-the-ass. But when it’s over, you’ll have something to be proud of. Because not everyone can manage what you are your body just pulled off. So chill out.