Saturday, November 29, 2014

An Open Letter to Runners World

Dear Dave Willey,

I hate to resort to open letters; however, Runner's World Magazine doesn't make it easy to find a letter to the editor address and I have a serious bone to pick with you.

That's a photo my husband took of me crossing the 10k finish line at the RW Heartbreak Hill 10k.  I had run the 5k a bit earlier and I was one of the last folks to cross the 10k finish line and it was a major accomplishment on more levels than you can imagine.

See, I am what is politely referred to as a "real sized" woman.  That means I am fat but in our world of manners and political correctness, no one wants to say that to my face.

I entered the cover of the Runner's World Magazine contest but realized quickly I didn't have a chance for three reasons: my social network isn't immense; I didn't have a truly inspirational story, just a normal one; and I'm fat.  I tried, so it goes and I'm OK with that, but I had hope the editors would actually go through the entries and read the essays and maybe, for once, pick someone that looked out of place on the cover so that folks like me didn't feel ignored.

I was wrong.

Can you imagine the amount of pain and hurt by going with yet another "I lost a zillion pounds through running" story rather than just one "I don't care that I'm fat and run and screw people who laugh at me" person?  I mean no offense to Michele Elberston's achievement of shedding 250+ pounds or any one else's achievements featured in the December 2014 Runner's World.  There are always those that face adversity and pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

They certainly inspire, but that's not everyone and sometimes we normal folks need a voice too.

You guys asked applicants to answer the question: "What is running important to you?" I wrote that whenever I think of quitting I think of a student who hugged and thanked me for showing her you don't have to look like an athlete to be athletic. In a world where girls are constantly told they are too fat - whether it's the First Lady taking on childhood obesity and nutrition or Abecrombie and Fitch's CEO saying that he doesn't want "fat girls" wearing his clothing line, only the cool kids - it's important that someone can inspire girls who will never look like chiseled athletes because it's just not their body type.

To understand why it was so important to see someone who looks like me on the cover comes back to prejudice and judgement I have received via the running community.  I was told by the head of one athletic gear company, "When you lose weight dear..." when I asked for a longer length running skirt to cover my generous ... um ... assets.  Trying to find a comfortable running bra that holds me in place so I don't give myself two black eyes when I'm running (please, I'm not a mystical Inuit woman giving Homer Simpson directions back to Springfield) or a long enough shirt to cover my midsection without having to go to the men's section of the store.  Many race directors don't think twice about the folks in the back of the pack, which is why I am loyal to those who make sure every last runner (or walker) is supported the whole race and stay until they have crossed the finish line.

There are all sorts of people like me out there in the gyms, on the tracks and on the roads and yet we are invisible, mocked and constantly discouraged because we don't look the part.  Once again, we are the kids who don't belong in someone's little club and it hurts even more as an adult.  I guess we never get used to that feeling of rejection.  You had a chance to change that with your cover and you didn't.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't about did I win or lose. This is me being upset that you didn't think outside the box.  You went with what is expected and, as a result, you missed the point, and a large portion of the population, entirely.

See I love running.  Hell I write haiku while I'm running and a magazine cover won't change that, but it might have changed it for someone else.  Your job is defined by Rodale Press's mission statement: We inspire and enable people to improve their lives and the world around them.

Today I don't feel so inspired, I just feel sad.  Perhaps a run will change my mood.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thoughts About Losing NaNoWriMo for the First Time

I am, most likely, not going to "win" Nano this year, that is, I am not going to hit 50k words.  I have come close to goal several times this month only to fall behind and fall behind and fall behind again as something called life happened.

Don't get me wrong, life has happened before, but I still managed to make my goal.

Last year I almost didn't make it.  My first semester of grad school and working, there were a bunch of other things happening but I pulled it out (mostly by quoting a lot of song lyrics).  This year I was catching up and feeling like I could make it but too many things going on between my mom's most recent hospital stay this week, final semester of grad school, work, prep for my "take over" week and the fact my story ended.... just like that.

But there's where I didn't fail at Nano - I have a solid story this year.  One I can commit to revising and editing and working with others to produce something worth shopping with a bit of work.  Not the bare bones of a story or a story that, with a large pair of scissors and a ton of work might have something to it.  I have a very real, solid bit of writing that has all the elements I tell my students they need when they write:

A solid beginning: The hook needs some work, but it's a solid beginning.

Tell the story bit by bit: The story unfolds the way it should.  It doesn't hit the "and something here" point or the "I did more telling than showing because I didn't know what else to do..." point.  It unfolds the way it should.

I used juicy describing words/I showed, not told the story: I reread a random passage and saw that it was the balance between telling the story and overtelling/undertelling the story.  I'm good with that.

An ending that wraps it all up: The ending is a good ending.  OK, it's a bit of a Star Wars style ending of everyone standing there smiling into the camera, but it's the type of ending that matches the story and is good.

It's only about 20k words.  I have just over 12k of side stories that are related to but separate from my main story.  It means I need to write 18k words in 4 days.  I could do it.  I could find a way to incorporate a beleaguered elementary school teacher writing lesson plans and include the lesson plans I've been writing all month for work and my classes - which puts me WAY over the 50k mark.  Who knows, I may do that still because I just hate the idea of not making the 50k when I know I've been writing like there's no tomorrow.  But I know that I will not have won in the spirit of everything.

So I guess I'm saying, yes I can hit 50k but it won't be a novel and I'm only beginning to process it all.  I'll be OK with all this in a bit.  I know I have some incredible scenes (c'mon, a crow with an eating disorder as the side kick to a very bad ass squirrel - how can it not have incredible scenes?).

But today I sit here knowing that even if I hit the word count, I am not a winner this year and I can live with that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Turducken: a Cautionary Tale OR Why Backing Up Your Computer is Necessary

I had a little black MacBook and I loved it true and well.

I am married to an MIT alum that helped build the internet (back in the day when it was just time sharing).  I worked in high-tech for years.  I worked at an Apple Store, so if there is one thing I understood it was backing up.

I never really understood until my first NaNoWriMo in 2009.

After weeks of furious writing, I hit the 30,000 word point and the end was in sight.  I was so excited that my story was rolling along and spent a Saturday morning watching the Food Network and watching Paula Deen talk about how to make a turducken.  (It's where you stuff a chicken, then stuff a duck with the stuffed chicken and then stuff a turkey with the stuffed chicken that is now stuffed in the duck so that you have a turkey stuffed with a duck, a chicken and stuffing.)  I was 1,500 words into incorporating the turducken into my story when I heard it.

Click, click, click.

Like the ticking sound of the death watch beetle in Practical Magic, it was the sound foreshadowing the death of my hard drive.

A moment later all went blank.

"Noooooooo," I wailed, the plaintive cry shook the house with a chilling terror.

My husband ran into the room to find me in an overstuffed chair, a sobbing mess.

"My.... my... hard drive," I choked out between sobs, "it's gone.   It died."

He gave me that patient husband look and, like most MIT types, immediately went to the practical.

"Do you have Apple Care?"

"Yes," I sniffed.

"Did you back it up?"

"Last night, but that's not the point," I whined.

"Make an appointment at the Apple store will you."

I sighed and, using my husband's computer, went online to take the first available genius bar appointment available.  It said, "Hard drive click of death.... 1500 words about Turducken lost.  Help me Obiwan Kenobi, you're my only hope."

Then, with great care, I dutiful packed up my redundant back ups system of two external hard drives and little black MacBook and drove into Chestnut Hill.  The store was packed, as most Apple stores are on a Saturday.  I found a corner back by the accessories, MacBook clutched to my chest and tears welling in the back of my eyes.

One of my colleagues saw me and jovially greeted me, "What are you doing here on your day off?"

The damn broke and my tears began to flow like a small river down my face.

"My hard drive failed," I choked out.

Suddenly I felt a pair of strong arms around me.  And then another and another and another as my co-workers and friends encased me in a group hug.

"It will be OK," they all told me, "you know you're in the best hands here."

My tears stopped and I began to breathe.  Jason, one of our lead genii, came over with a box of tissues and gently took my MacBook from me and tried to turn it on.  He poked at it and made a concerned face.  He double checked something on his screen and smiled.

"The bad news is you need a new hard drive.  The good news is we have one in stock and it's covered by AppleCare.  But this is the hard part, did you back it up."

I held up the non-woven shopping bag containing the two hard drives.

"Good girl," he smiled.  "We'll have this back up and running again in a few hours.  I'll pop in a new hard drive and restore from your back up drive.  It will be ready around 6pm tonight."

For the first time in over an hour, I felt air rush into my lungs as I took my first real deep breath.

When I returned to pick up my baby, I found that one of my external drives had failed and needed to be replaced.  I immediately purchased a portable external drive that I could carry with me when needed.

I still use a redundancy back up because I still live by the motto from the early days of high-tech: save as often as you want to redo your work, back up as often as you're willing to lose your work.

That cold November Saturday morning, I lost 1,500 words about Turducken.  It was fresh enough to jot down and retype that evening.  Had I lost the 30k words to that point... and everything else... it would have been a disaster.

The clicking of the death watch beetle comes quickly and strikes without warning.  You have been warned, be prepared or be devastated.

It's your choice.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Morning Worship

After spending 24 hours moving through out the Boston area writing, we ended at the UU Church of Medford for the overnight session.  When the day was over, I walked into the sanctuary to deposit our contributions to the Interfaith Food Pantry into the collection basket and looked up at the window.

Watching the sun coming up and shining through that window  was a beautiful moment.  I called in my fellow writers and we stood there, about a dozen or so of us, in the silence just watching.  Then we heard the piano from the next room.  One of our intrepid band had been itching to play all night long but didn't want to sleep the handful of people who had crashed or taking a cat nap.

So we stood there, beautiful music in the background, the sun shining through the window and a moment where serenity and peace just washed over us at the end of a day of camaraderie, merriment, work and creativity.

The universe smiled on us, and we smiled back.

It struck me: this is what worship is about.  It's not about constructs, it's not about rituals or ceremonies.  It's about people connecting with each other and the universe.  It reminded me of the words said each Sunday at the end of service in that church: "Our worship is over and our service now begins."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Morning Coffee... a poem

(for Miles)

We talk every morning,

The steam curling up from the coffee cup
As we ask the big questions of each other
Between sips
Between spaces in time
Between moments of breath
Between time
                     And space
                                   And distance.

Two friends bound in silence
Tied together with words
In between sips
In between moments of breath
As the coffee warms our hands and we 
Look into
             Each other’s space
                                      Each other’s eyes

Treasuring our friendship
As we measure our lives in our morning coffee.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A squirrel with plan

Really, is there anything more dangerous?

Actually, this whole thing has taken an odd twist and it looks like Bob is about to take on a large flock of starlings.  Why is it that my books always take these odd turns?


“This is our town now.  I suggest you get your furry rodent butts out of here and find someplace new to live.  We own this town.”

“Yeah,” chirped a couple of smaller birds behind the tough guy.

Bob summed them up.  He remembered his father telling him once that bullies are weak without their chorus.  You can’t always beat them but you should never give into them.

“Do you know who I am?” Bob asked casually.

The small starlings twittered in laughter when all of a sudden the big bird took a close look.

“You’re that squirrel that took on the raccoons aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“You think you’re going to take us on do you?”

“Let’s just say I’m very protective of my dray.  I’m giving you a chance.  Stay on the Starbucks side of the block and you can have the whole commercial area, but if you try to cross to the parking lot and beyond, I will unleash a fury of hell’s fire on you.”

The starlings laughed.

“Yuck it up now.  You won’t be laughing when a polar bear with a chain saw shows up to cut down your habitat or maybe it will just be a monkey with an axe.  No matter what it is, it will be ugly.  It will be violent and it will make you sorry you ever pissed me off.”

“Good luck to you and the Boston Red Sox buddy.”

“The name is Bob and I don’t need luck.”

He turned around casually and slowly walked away.  He could hear the laughter change from mocking to nervous.  He had shaken them and the gauntlet had been thrown down.

Now all he needed was a plan.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What I've been working on

It's another fine NaNoWriMo and I'm behind much earlier than normal this year.  But that's OK as I've been busy finishing up a ton of stuff.  This year's a story about Bob the Squirrel, the product of genetically modified parents and broken out of a Harvard graduate student lab.  Bob's adventures have taken the lead and, here is one from yesterday where we meet his friend Nate the crow with an eating disorder.  Bob now has a girlfriend (Macy) and he has to get the special treat his human friend, Diana, left out for him to Macy without Nate eating it.


Nate was hungry again.

This was not unusual as Nate was always hungry.

That he could put away so much food without exploding was both fascinating and repulsive at the same time.

“I’m Italian,” he often said.  “My grandparents came over on a luxury liner from the Old Country.  It’s a genetic thing, I’m pretty sure of it.  You should see my cousins and uncles.  I’m a light weight compared to them.”

Bob didn’t know about the whole “it’s genetic” thing.  It seemed to be an excuse humans and other intelligent animals often used to explain bad habits.  On the other hand, he was smarter than the bulk of the squirrel population as the offspring of genetically modified set of parents.  Perhaps there was something to the whole “it’s genetic” thing but it was like a tasty tidbit that had soured.  The type of thing that you knew, under normal circumstances, was an amazing bit of treasured food and yet, there was that off odor or color and you knew it wasn’t quite right and yet you had to try it to be sure.
That to him seemed to sum up that excuse… or statement… or observation.
Bob also knew that, so long as Nate was in scavenger mode, he had zero to slim chances of getting Macy’s hazelnuts home to her.  He wouldn’t make it a step or two before Nate pounced on the delicate and tasty treats and toss them down without a second thought to savor or cherish them as they should be.  Macy loved hazelnuts and he loved Macy, he needed to get these to her as she was probably the only creature alive for whom he would give up hazelnuts.

That meant Bob needed a plan and he needed one quick.

Since Nate would naturally eat anything, the question became how could he divert his attention for the handful of minutes he needed to make it across the yard and up the tree trunk?


“How’s it going?” He looked up from pecking at the boards on Diana’s deck to see if maybe there was an old bit of something stuck there. “Do you think Diana left something, anything out?  I can smell something but can’t quite find or place it.  Maybe it’s from breakfast yesterday.  I keep checking but… well, I can’t find anything.”

“Not that I’ve been able to see, but I heard a rumor the house on the corner restocked their bird feeder from one of the dogs walking by earlier.”

Nate patted his distended belly under his black feathers.  “Found it already.”

“Did you check the yogurt place down the block?”

“I haven’t been there all summer.  A flock of aggressive starlings moved into the ivy on the wall over on the side of the bank.  Alone a starling’s not too bad but a flock…” his voice trailed off as he shuddered.  “A pack will peck you like no one’s business.  It doesn’t matter how hungry I am, I’m not crossing into starling territory.”

Bob tried to think but all he could think of was Macy’s soft fur and the little white tufts behind her ears.  It was adorable how she sat on her haunches and moved her froth paws in time to whatever Diana was listening to when she was out on the deck.  If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn there were some genetic modification in Macy to as she didn’t act like other squirrels.  She was smarter.

“It was trash day yesterday, so no compost pails today,” Nate’s sad statement cut through Bob’s day dream.

“That’s it!” Bob jumped up and ran up along the gutters to the front corner of the house’s roof.  He scanned the street and spied something as Nate landed gracefully next to him.  Bob was always surprised at how, in spite of his size, Nate could elegantly lift off and land.  One would think a bird that size would struggle over his leaner counter parts.

“Look,” Bob pointed up the street.  “They put their stuff out late yesterday and they’re waiting for the second chance truck.  I bet their compost bin is still out too.  If not, I’ve heard chatter that the berry bushes have taken over and are still producing some late raspberries.  They’re too sour for the humans there, but they should be just about right for you.”

“Bob you’re a genius, but you knew that all ready.  Thanks buddy.  I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Better later than sooner, Macy’s waiting for me.”  He gave Nate a wink.

“Gotcha.  I’m off.”

He lifted off again and circled overhead once before flying up the hill.  Bob waited until Nate was on his way and wasted no time scurrying back to the deck.  He opened the little box Diana had started to use to hide special treats for him and he was rewarded with a bag of hazelnuts.  Carefully taking the bag in his mouth, he ran across the yard reaching the old oak tree in no time.  Quickly climbing up the trunk to his den, he entered just as Macy was starting to stir.  He dropped the nuts by her and smiled.

“Breakfast, my dear, is served.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A different view on the world

Tonight I was speaking with my professor after class and I mentioned that I went to St. A's back when 90% of the women there were nursing majors and I was a Lit major.

He laughed and said, "You were breaking ground, a pioneer."

I had never thought of myself that way.  I had seen myself as an outsider, someone who didn't fit in.  But his words made me realize I was born to stand out.  It was a different perspective I needed to hear.  It makes me wonder how many of us forget that other perspective.