01 December 2012

What Lies Between Us

That's the title of an old, old poem--a truly mediocre poem, in fact--about the Delaware river, someone's grandfather's silver puzzle rings, an old leather jacket, and a pewter tea pot. It wasn't ever really about those things, of course, but about the relationship that spawned them. Fifteen years later, so much more lies between us. So much more truth, and everything else, still lies between us.

What Still Lies (a fragment)

The months that pass when I don't hear from you,
except in the unspoken language of blues,
as I try to decipher the radio codes into a message
meant only for me, the words still unspoken after all this time.

The river at night. 
The memory of your body,
of mud on my knees from praying 
at the altar of you. 

A tangle of rings
and promises our bodies made
that denies everything else.
A puzzle we still cannot solve.

09 November 2012

What We Really Do Backstage

Life on the road isn't always glamourous, folks. Sometimes it's just a drag. I have electricity and internet back now (thanks, Hurricane Sandy) and I'm feeling nostalgic for my friends, so I thought I'd show you a glimpse from a very long, hot summer.

As you can see, the music industry is nothing but a lot of hard work. Grueling, grueling work.

Disclaimer: I obviously don't own the copyright to the audio in this clip (except the part where I'm cackling hysterically).

30 October 2012

RR Marine Corps Marathon 2012, Code Name: No Guts, No Glory. No, Really.

This was simultaneously the best and the shittiest race of my relatively short marathoning career. I learned some important lessons this weekend. Among them:

1. Six weeks after abdominal surgery is too soon to run a marathon, even if it was laparoscopic.

2. I am still having trouble digesting things. Sometimes I care more than other times. One of those times is at Mile 5 when I have to veer over to the guard rail and try to puke.

3. There are still things in the running world cooler than a finisher's medal. Even one from the Marines.

The weekend started out pretty well. I didn't get detoured, lost, or ever really re-routed through the District on my way into Rosslyn, though I did run into a wee bit of traffic. But right from the get-go, something was off. I knew I was going to be moody all weekend (hello, hormones!) but I'd forgotten to take into account that I was also on a decongestant that makes me cranky and tense. Oops. So I was simultaneously really happy and a total bitch until after lunch on Saturday, when I figured things out and stopped taking the decongestant.

Friday night the part of the gang that was already in town went out to dinner and then set about some serious drinking back at the hotel. Not sure how it happened. Suddenly it was 2am and the beer was gone. Oooops.
I've got my people with me. And I'm standing on a table. Life is good.
Saturday I finally got a chance to get to the Expo, which unlike other years was a complete gagglefuck. Seriously. Did they lease this thing out to Competitor Group? Get it together, Marines! You're better than this! My bib was in a different place than my bag was in a different place than my shirt was in a different place than I had to STAND IN LINE because there was only one poor civvie volunteer looking up  bib numbers for those of us whose printers went tits-up when we tried to print out our confirmation emails before leaving.

And then, the lines. Ugh. The line was fantastic in that it moved quickly, but long-ass. And it made me miss the brunch-bus. Which made me sad, since I'd asked to go to OHP specifically. No dutch baby for me. But I managed to drive out and meet them, and Char had already ordered mine for me. Sweet relief! After brunch, I had time for a nap before dinner, but couldn't get to sleep. Did get a bit of a lie-down, though. Just not enough to make up for the five hours of sleep.
Do not get between me and my Dutch baby. Period.
Dinner itself was very, very odd. I won't get into specifics here, but the original dinner plan got hijacked. The good bit about dinner was getting to see my cousin OB for the first time in about 19 years. OB and I aren't actually related by blood--our moms are best friends--but we go back literally our entire lives. This is the kid who taught me how to belch the alphabet, the one who was my partner in crime the first time we stayed up past midnight, and--oh yeah, he's also a Naval Commander now. So he fit right in with the gang. I just sat him down next to Gunz and Gunz's old Marine buddy Patrick and let them loose.

Me and OB, together for the first time in nineteen years
Got back to the room before nine, but could not get to sleep. For the second night in a row, my stomach was bothering me, in addition to pre-race nerves. And this time they were justified.

Sunday morning go-time. Should have gone downstairs and had oatmeal for breakfast; instead, because my stomach was uncertain, I had a Clif Bar. Which turns out not to have been the best choice. By the time I finished it, I was already queasy. This was not good.
We are marathoners victorious, with our game faces on. And we are sleepy.
Also, some of us are psycho,  but that's beside the point.
We met up in the lobby and walked to the start together. I kept my eye out for Len, who was running with me--and the chest cold I had last week. I couldn't find him, so when the Howitzer went off I just put my head down and went, relatively certain that Len would find me--but in the meantime, I needed to run my own race. And right around Mile 2, find me he did, which turns out to be what got me through this race as far as I did. By this time, I was already needing the encouragement. I was lightheaded, and right around the 5k mark I started feeling nauseous and thinking it was going to be a very long race.

Oh, the irony.

So we continued, with Len graciously keeping at my pace even though he could have gone ahead several times. I made an aborted attempt at a pit stop somewhere in Spout Run--in other words, I veered suddenly over to the guard rail and tried earnestly to puke my guts out, without success--and a porta-john pit-stop around Mile 7.5 or 8. Trouble was, every time I started to run, within two minutes I'd be deeply nauseous to the point of watering eyes and tunnel vision. Urp.

By the time we got to Hains Point, we were mostly walking. Walking at a decent clip, mind you, but still definitely walking. The internal incisions where my gallbladder had previously taken up residence were aching badly now, on top of the nausea. This sucked hardcore. I wanted to stop. Coming back from the Point, the wind picked up--oh, did I mention there was a hurricane forecast for Sunday night? Yeah. So there we were, asses flapping in the breeze, getting blown backward while trying to hunch over and walk forward. And not puke. And not cry. I seriously wanted to lie down in the road. Even during my worst moments, that's never happened before. I was actively looking forward to being ill and falling over so that I would have an excuse to stop moving forward. I couldn't catch my breath, and I couldn't feel anything except cold and nauseous, and....oh. Now my right IT band got in on the act. That was unusual; it's always been the left one that's bothered me.

Hobbled a few more miles, but this was seriously the longest fucking race of my life. I wasn't even watching the signs or the spectators. I wasn't handing out high fives, and I'd stopped fist-bumping Marines before the orange station at Mile 9. I was not in a good way.

And then we got rerouted. Motherfuckers added a second cutoff to the race course two years ago, and it's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard in my entire life. Because not only do you not finish, you have to actually COMPLETE the course, getting rerouted right from Mile 17.5 to Mile 19.5, where the victory party of having beaten the bridge is busy going on. Everyone's telling you you've made it, you're almost there--only you're not. You're an imposter, a fraud, a cheat. And you have to hobble by these people with your head held high like you don't resent them for thinking you've made it this far in one piece. Fortunately Len is too good a man to ever remind me of the things I said during these two miles, because I was bitterly upset and disappointed. What was even worse was the well-meaning spectator who shouted out, "Good job, runners!--and walkers!" Ouch. We are not walkers. We are runners who happen to be walking. Or, you know, hobbling.

Once off the bridge, we decided that since it was unofficial and we weren't going to take finisher's medals anyway (which is on the honor system--there's no way of telling, but they ask you not to take one if you've been rerouted. I can guarantee you there are other people who did, or would. While on those two miles I considered sending my competitor shirt to our friend Nita who didn't make the trip, or outright burning it, but Len pretty much told me to get over myself.) Anyway. While on the bridge, we agreed that having to walk another two miles through Crystal City was bullshit we were not in the mood for. At that point I just wanted to get my knee taped up, get back to my hotel, curl up in a ball, puke my guts out, and cry. I wasn't going to go to dinner. I couldn't handle it. I just wanted it to be over. (I did eventually go out to dinner with the gang, once I got over myself. I just needed a few miles of self-pity.)

Len did a wonderful job of distracting me during those middle 15 miles or so. We turned out to be in the right place at the right time when a fellow runner's calves cramped up simultaneously and he fell over right next to us. I could see the twitching and tried to ease it the best I could with what I had (which is to say, reiki and talking him down and just being there). Len got him stretched out once the twitching stopped enough to seat him upright, and we helped him up and on his way, along with someone who'd gotten him water and a fourth fellow who just stopped to check. Because that's what runners do. When you fall down, we scrape you up and set you on your feet again. We point you in the right direction and cheer as you toddle on.

And then, half a mile later when you fall over again, we repeat the process. During this second one, Len was able to help him by himself, so I took advantage of our proximity to Pentagon parking lot porta-johns. With equally dismal results.

What should have been my sub-six victory march up the hill was a long, angry slash at an unfair, shitty day and an unfair, shitty series of events in the past seven weeks. We still ran across the finish, because I've always sworn I would never walk across a finish line, but it was the feeblest damn excuse for a run I've ever seen. Len said later that by this point I looked like death warmed over (there are official race photos of this phenomenon, and he is in fact incorrect. I don't look warmed over. I just look like cold, congealed, nose-runny death.) but that I was clearly determined to run up that hill, so if I could run it, he could run it. That startled me, because not only is it seriously the highest compliment anyone has ever paid my determination, but because I hadn't realised Len was hurting at that point. I was sure that even then I was holding him back. Turns out we were holding each other up. Funny how that works, at Mile 26.

Fortunately we were able to detour around the medal chute without too much attention or trouble. There was the requisite trouble getting my hands to function--seriously, I was freezing and couldn't get my thumb and forefinger to do the pincer-thing, and once again had to approach the Master Guns to get him to do rudimentary things. Remember how last year I said that if I'd had a windbreaker on he'd have surely zipped it up for me just as solemnly? Turns out I was right. His buddy gave him some shit for it, but what the hell, it was amusing.

JUST NOW REMEMBERED running into Carl and Karen while waiting in line for my first porta-john at Mile 7.5, shortly after I said something so off-colour and suggestive that I actually made a Marine snort. So there were good moments in this race. Just very, very few of them.

Meanwhile, back at the "finisher's" festival, all I wanted was some medwrap. I could do without the ice pack, I was producing enough of my own cooling. Len dumped me at the medical tent with a hug and a promise to see me at dinner, because by that point I'd realised that there's no shame in being human, and what I'd gained in 22 miles--the knowledge that I have friends who love me enough to bail on a race finish for me--was something no medal could replace. But goddamn my knee hurt.

My IT band has an actual bruise on it. Hardcore.
Disturbingly, friend Moo was also in the medical tent, getting his foot wrapped. He reacted to my news of DNF with genuine distraught sympathy and the best hug ever before hobbling his way back to the metro. Meanwhile, I got checked out by Dr. Chris With The Awesome Giggle, who was kind of fantastic, despite the fact that everything he did to my IT band made me want to punch him in the face. Got some T, got myself wrapped up in those icy wrap band thingies, which for the record are the slimiest thing you want to imagine touching any part of you, and humped it back up in search of Clarendon Boulevard. Which I lose after the race every single year. I swear. This year I think I only went a block and a half out of my way.

Then I had to deal with the fact that my tracking results were making it appeared I'd PRed and made my A goal time with nine minutes to spare, and my friends were jubilant for me. Oof. By that time, all I wanted was to be warm. And a cheeseburger. Both of which I eventually got.

The postscript of this is, of course, I spent the next two days holed up on the ninth floor of my hotel, watching Hurricane Sandy pound the shit out of my beloved New York City and wondering how in hell I'm going to make it home. I'm heading out tomorrow morning, back to Doodlehem, where rumour has it I still have no power but now actually have access to my home. So that's a start. Next time, I'll tell you about Orgasm in a Cone, the rat abatement committee, and how to make Gunz turn purple and almost spit his beer out. But for now I'm sworn to secrecy.

As for the race of my lifetime? Next time, bitches. Just you wait. Your ass is mine. I'll get you in 2013. There's a lot of miles to be had between now and next fall. And I'mma run all of them.

24 October 2012

Keeping Tabs

In early August I spent the weekend with someone I once never thought I'd see again. For most of our childhoods we were closer than sisters, and then suddenly in high school we weren't, for reasons it took me the better part of twenty years to understand. The end of our friendship was something I mourned deeply for a long time, complicated of course by the fact that we ran in the same circles, dated the same guys (fortunately not usually at the same time) and thus were always in some teeth-slightly-bared competition with each other.

We've all had those friendships, and most of the time we eventually get over it. We see each other at a reunion and wonder what we were ever thinking, or we eye each other in frozen foods and pass pleasantries in line at the deli counter. And eventually we stop wondering. Most of the time, we don't get the chance to build a bridge back to the times we used to write each other four page notes every night even though we had all our classes together except gym, the time when we could finish each other's sentences because we knew each other's history almost as well as our own. We grow up, we get married, we get divorced, we have kids or we don't, we get jobs we hate, we get several useless degrees in rapid progression, and then (this is the part that rapidly becomes a cliche lately) due to a certain social networking tool that rhymes with Spacehook, we get back in casual touch.

But I never stopped wondering. I'd been hanging the ornaments she cross-stitched for me on my tree every year in the intervening seasons. I've been making silly paper hats and filling them with confetti (the singular of which is confetto). I've read my collected works of e e cummings more times than I can count, even though she still prefers Dickinson. And so when we learned that our lives had been following pretty much parellel courses (without the cancer on her part, clever move there, though she did have some other health issues I managed to avoid) all this time, we didn't know whether to be startled or amused.

We'd seen each other a few times in the past five years, mostly drive-through visits while one of us was on our way from Connecticut to Pennsylvania or back again. We played a lot of internet Scrabble and had some long late-night phone calls about the fact that even though we're on the cusp of forty boys are still pretty much dumb. But this weekend in August was the first time we'd had close to 72 uninterrupted hours in each other's company (excepting the time we were in separate rooms administering the State EMT Exam, which is another story altogether: I got to impersonate a stroke victim every ten minutes for so long that I practically had one of my own) and really, it was unnerving the way time collapsed and we were in her mother's kitchen again instead of hers, me spilling lemon juice out of the teaspoon onto the floor because I never could steady my hands; before bed, I thought about the innumerable times I'd slept on the box spring in this very same bed frame while she slept on the mattress on the floor at her parents' colonial split, instead of the guest room of her two-story condo. The cat was different, too, but it kneaded the same blanket.

But what got me most of all was watching her drive. Our falling out was long before either of us got our licenses, but there were those hands on the steering wheel, the strong piano-player knuckles and rounded nails that I knew as well as my own, as well as the hands of any member of my family, even my husband. For some reason, it was the sight of those familiar hands that made me want to break down and cry. I have no idea what that might mean. All I know it was a relief to be near someone again who has known you longer than you've known yourself, and still manages to forgive both of you.

18 July 2012

RR El Scorcho 2012, Code Name: DFL

Honestly, so much happened last week in Texas that I'm having trouble processing it all. Some of that is because I came home with a whopping big coldish bug that will not leave my throat and head alone, piled on top of which is the fact that my freezer defrosted while I was gone, so I have to scrub strawberry blood out of every crevice of my freezer and fridge, and have lost an entire spring's worth of fruit that I'd frozen or made jams and jellies out of. Not to mention, the ice cream. This is truly a tragedy, one that I don't have the energy to comprehend right now.

So anyway, there will probably be a few posts on various other Texas shenanigans (because there were many, involving blogging friends old and new, learning to two-step, and a particularly memorable evening that culminated in getting driven home by the mayor of Rockwall...but we won't mention that...)

Meanwhile, back at El Scorcho, I immediately fell in love with this race when I met the RD, Jim Newsom of the Ft. Worth Running Company, who promised they wouldn't feed my dead body to the coyotes. I also scared the crap out of him by walking in off the street from 1500 miles away and knowing whose race bib he was holding in his hand to complete a waiting-list transfer.

Jesus is everywhere. And this is his bib.
The rest of the week was pretty much like an old blues song recorded by Rory Block

Double back to Fort Worth. 
Change cars on the Katy. 
Leaving Dallas, Texas. 
Coming through Rockwall. 
Now to Greenville. 
All the way back to Fort Worth, Texas. 
I'm on my way. 

 as I dropped off the enormous and excellently cool rental Jeep Liberty I'd driven down to Austin (see: other epic shenanigans, above) and exchanged it for a whole other world of trouble, otherwise known as my friend Jusko. As the member of our ever expanding and morphing group of running friends I knew least going into this gig, Jusko turned out to be the only one who actually was able to make this race, though he wasn't running it himself due to injury, except for our friend Chuck, who was running the 25k La Scorchita. Chuck is very quiet and unprepossessing, which can get lost in the chaos of our very...um, personality-heavy group, but he is a true friend--one that managed to find me in a tent city of several hundred spectators and participants, not having laid eyes on me in person since fall of 2007. And a good thing too, since I don't run with my glasses so I wouldn't have recognised him.

I got a delightful surprise about twenty minutes before the race (while I was scoping out the bathrooms, of course, which will surprise precisely none of you that know me) when Jusko said he was planning on running the first loop with me. I suspect this was more out of wistfulness than the actual desire to motivate me or keep me company, which he knew probably better than I did I would need later on in the evening. Er, morning. Whatever.

Oh wait. Let me back up quite a bit. 

Have I mentioned this race starts at midnight? Yeah. And it was ass-crack dark, to modify a recently learned phrase from a friend (hi Gunz!). Speaking of Gunz, he sent me a series of very encouraging and often hysterically funny texts in the days and hours leading up to this race. How can a girl not love a coach who makes her crack up just by remembering something he texted her earlier in the week, somewhere in the middle of Mile 22? ("coughcoughobama?" won't seem funny to you, but at 5 in the morning, more or less in context, it was almost as good as "ass cancer" and definitely did the trick.) He wins the prize for Person Most Likely To Put Up With My Whining While Simultaneously Handing Me a Straw this week. Probably this whole training period. He narrowly missed the Person Most Likely To Be the Recipient of My Bitching About Other People in General award by dint of the fact that I sometimes complain about him to Nita, on general grounds that he's a guy, so he occasionally needs bitching about. Nita, of course, can not in any way be confused with a guy.

So there I was, lined up at the start with Jusko, whacking frantically away at a Garmin that wouldn't unfreeze. Just how I want to start a race. I don't know what its problem was, but I handed the thing over to Jusko as we trotted along (the gun having of course gone off while I was having mechanical problems) who set it right and handed it back to me. Thus there was about a third of a mile hacked off the beginning of my record of this race. There was also almost a mile hacked off the end of it, when the battery died. Yes, I was out there that long.

I knew from the very first mile that this was not going to be a good race for me. It wasn't that I had a longer, steeper taper than usual, which I did. It wasn't that my back was bothering me, because it wasn't. It was the sheer heat and stupidity...er, humidity...the very thing that makes El Scorcho El Scorcho. And I knew this going in, but somehow it didn't really sink in until twelve minutes and eighteen seconds later, when I told Jusko that we were going to have to slow down, because, dude, I had 30.1 more of these to do yet. It was darker than a donkey's arse, thirteen minutes after midnight, and 86 degrees. It was going to be a very long night. Jusko had an advantage of not only being literally twice as fast as I am, but also for all intents and purposes a native-raised Texan. He was used to this crap. Still, he was very kind and followed my lead. 

The 25k start was ten minutes later, and it was not quite the end of the first loop before Chuck caught up with us while Jusko was fulfilling the dream he'd undoubtedly had all week of putting his hand up my shorts: I had decided that there was no way in fuck I was going to be able to wear a singlet, and he was repinning the bib to the leg of my compression shorts. I had started out in my Marine Corps Marathon 2011 singlet, because I wanted every single one of my fourteen or fifteen dearest running friends with me on this journey. You all are my inspiration, and my life is fuller for having known, run with, drank with, laughed with, cried with, prayed with, fought with, loved fiercely and too well or not well enough, and usually made up with you. (On that last one, I hope we still can someday. We miss you.)

My plan was to run each loop dedicated to a person or group of people. This isn't something I usually do, but I figured I'd need a little extra to get me through the night. And boy I was right.

Loop 1: Loops for MCMs with Straws. You know who you are. I don't need to say any more about this. You've had my back every day for five years now, and you had it more than ever Tuesday morning when the shit hit the fan and you showed me something I didn't properly appreciate until then, which is just how much I am loved. You humble me with your fierce love, your unruly tenderness, your unwavering sense of humor, and in some cases your probably literal willingness to kick ass and take names if necessary. Also, the joke about the cat on a stripper pole.

Loop 2: Dropped Jusko off, grabbed a peanut butter Gu at the campsite, and headed out. Loop 2 was for Len. Why? Because he's Len. It was Loop 2 when I settled into the grind, alternating between running and walking, because there was no other way this was going to happen, and it was Len who taught me that we are in this for the long haul, and when all else fails, you dial it back and live to run another day.

Loop 3: More Gu. Some Cytomax. Loop 3 is for Charlotte and Bill. They've had a heck of a year healthwise between them, and as two of my favourite people on this planet they do not deserve the crap that's been shoveled their way of late. Loop 3 is also where Chuck lapped me for the second time. For the record, I was trying to spit out the scraps of Gu wrapper stuck to my lip into the trash can when you saw me, not puking into it. How Chuck recognised me from the back while running at that speed after I'd dropped off my shirt is utterly beyond me, excepting the fact that I was probably the only short, stubby person running this race. I'm pretty sure he's never seen the lizard tattoo, so that couldn't have been it. After loop 3, I ditched my racing headlamp because I hadn't needed to use it, it was taking up space in my asspants, and anyone else could see me coming because of the incandescence of my pasty white abs.

Loop 4. Oh, loop 4, you sucked hardcore. Through the biggest, twistiest straw I have ever sucked. The heat was getting to me. My body was also remembering that it was, like, three in the freaking morning. I was hydrating just fine, but I wasn't retaining nearly enough salt. Hmmm.  This resulted in more walking than running, because I could not catch my breath and get my heart rate down to within normal range. Any time I started running, I got lightheaded and dizzy and not quite tunnel vision but definitely changed vision. Hmmmm.  Appropriately enough, this loop was for Jerry, who I miss like hell. No, it's not because you make me feel like puking.

Jusko had parked his tent just prior to the finish line, so loop 4 was also the longest loop timewise, because of what happened next. 

What happened next is I kicked Jusko's sock-foot through the open tent door and told him to wake up and get me some damn sea salt and vinegar potato chips before I passed out. My job was to fall over into the camp chair and have some water and try to catch my breath. He basically spoon-fed me some chips when I kept dropping them, and sat and talked to me while I sucked wind and prepared to meet my maker. I have no idea what he said, and it doesn't matter. What matters is that it kept me relatively oriented. Still, I was not in a good way. I had told him prior to the race--more than once--that after about four laps I was going to come into camp a bitch on wheels, and that his job was to feed me, pat me on the head, and point me out towards the course again, no matter what I said to him.

Instead, we crossed the trail and went to medical. Because I seriously wanted oxygen. I have never in my life gone to medical during a race (and I only went to medical on my own behalf after a race once, and that was because I landed on him when I fell across the finish line) and I sure as hell have never thought that a cannula sounded like a good plan, but I was seriously fantasizing about two oxygen prongs up my nose at this point. Hmmmm. I know I did a shitty job of expressing to medical what was wrong, because they kept asking if I had chest or shoulder pain, or tingling fingers. No, I'm not having a heart attack. And no, I do not want more goddamn water.  I understand that dehydration is probably the number one health problem they get into the van, but I'm damned if it's a problem I'll ever have. The medic couldn't find my pulse on my wrist. Hmmmmm. She then spent about another five or ten minutes trying to get it to track on her iPhone app. (I think she stopped worrying seriously about me when I looked her square in the eye and said with as much animation as anyone had seen out of me all night, "That is bitchin.") She couldn't get it to register a pulse on me. 


Finally, a good fifteen minutes and many salty, salty potato chips later, she registered my pulse at 117. During this time, Jusko and I seriously discussed the possibility of my stopping the race after 25k--one last loop--and bagging the thing. The idea had a certain appeal. And then I thought of Len. And Nita. And Gunz. And oh fuck. There was no way that was happening. I was not going to puss out. The only way I was leaving early was if they carried me, and sadly I'm not stupid enough to let that happen (I know, because I tried). So I stopped the aborted attempt at crying (which wasn't successful, because, you know, salt, so fortunately I don't think Jusko even noticed it) and told the medic I would check back in after the next lap if I still felt bad. The potato chips were starting to do their thing, and so I trundled off into the wild black El Scorcho yonder.

Loop 5: Loop 5 was my Run 4 Joy, because sometimes you think things can never, ever possibly get any worse than they are....and then you catch a breath and are somehow able to keep going.

photo courtesy of Gunz K

Loop 6: Again with the kicking of Jusko to wake him up, because he'd promised (while squirming out of loop 5) that he'd run six with me. "Six and ten, baby, six and ten." But who the hell wants to be woken up out of a sound sleep at four AM to run three miles at half your normal pace? Not Jusko, apparently. Fine. Loop six isn't for you, anyway, it's for Nita. Who, in all fairness, warned me about most of this, and couldn't possibly have foreseen the rest. Oh Nita, honey, if only you knew how right you are, and how different this last week would have been if you hadn't been there for me all eight hundred times I needed you. Oh wait, that's every week. By loop six I was starting to get a little, well, loopy. The first half of the course kept getting shorter, and the last half of the course kept getting longer. What was with that? I'd get to the truck of whooping guys with the Eminem tunes shouting out encouragement to me, making me believe for about seven or eight strides that I really was ripping it up, and to Greeny the squeaky-toy sock monkey (hi Greeny! I was totally counting laps by you) and I'd feel ok. I'd think, "Oh, I'm here again, already." And then I'd have to go under those underpasses again, and through the utter damn darkness in the trees, and up the hill, and across those three bridges, and up the other hill, and....just damn. Also, I increasingly had to pee in places there weren't places to pee. Not that this has ever stopped me, but still. Loop 6 is also where the memory of something Gunz had texted me three days earlier made me cackle hysterically into the darkness, scaring some raccoons who were engaging in illicit raccoon activities.

Loop 7: Didn't even bother to wake Jusko. Frak this, man. I'mma just get me a Clif bar and keep going. Lots of race support out there, men who love me back because I tell them I love them when they hand me Gummi bears or a cold towel. You know, the simple, mid-race kind of love. You know they are runners too, because they get it. They get that a whole, entire 16-ounce bottle of water fresh out of the cooler may have just saved your sanity, if not your faith in the entirety of the human race. They ask you if you want them to put another one back for you, for the next lap. Loop 7 is for all the spectators, who made this one of the best races I've ever had a shitty time at. For serious. 

....until, suddenly, it does. Five more times.

Loop 8: rhymes with hallucinate. By this time, there were very few of us still out there. I spent some time alongside Mario, who was one of the very select few running the unadvertised 50-mile race. Mario's advice and encouragement to fellow runners was traditionally "Keep on, keepin' on." Because of that simple phrase, I had a change of plan. Loop 8 is for Maura, for the eight years she's been gone from her family, and for the loved ones who want her home at any cost.

I wasn't going to wake Jusko up until the last lap, because I knew he'd take that one with me, but when I pulled into camp at the start of lap nine, there he was, bright eyed and bushy tailed. He said he'd walk the last two with me (because, yeah, by then I was almost entirely walking, my plantar fascia in my left foot making itself known in a very disturbing way, not to mention general exhaustion and poop-ed-ness) and that he'd catch up. I forget what he had to go grab. I just kept hobbling on, doing what I do. Crossed the mat with four minutes to spare for the 50k cutoff. Jim gave me an amazing jazz-hands greeting, which turned to mild dismay when I told him I still had two laps left. (That's six miles, for those of you keeping score.) "Are ya gonna keep going?" he asked.

"Jim, I did not fly all the way here from PA to run part of a race."

"Well go gettum."

Loop 9: Jusko walked alongside me, taking inventory of what hurt, what wanted to fall off, whether I wanted anything to drink, all that good stuff a fellow runner is supposed to do. I mostly just ignored him, though at a few points I was tempted to hang on to see if he'd carry me a few yards (he wouldn't). Jusko can have loop 9, despite everything that happened later in the week, for giving up his home for a week, his Saturday night so he could sleep in a tent and get abuse heaped on him by a very cranky runner, his own bed Sunday afternoon when just looking at the flight of stairs to the guest bedroom brought me to tears, and for going out for cheeseburgers for breakfast while I was in the shower post-race. I was fairly delirious by this point, so if you want details, you'll have to ask him. By this point they were dismantling the race course itself, zipping around on golf carts and waving at the crazy lady who was still out there, keepin on.

Loop 10: Right at the start of loop ten, Jusko ran back to get my sunglasses out of my kit, because I couldn't do anything that involved fine motor coordination or the identification of simple objects like my thumbs. I sort of stood in the middle of the trail, wobbling, waiting for him to catch back up with me. Jason, the assistant race director, was just packing the last of the race into the back of the U-Haul. He asked me if I'd finished. No sir, got one left. Was I going to finish? Hell yes sir. "Well then let me get you your medal. But you have to promise you'll finish." Like I came here from Pennsylvania to cheat. Right. In fact, I made him give the medal to Jusko, because I didn't want to touch it until I'd earned it. 

It was about this point that I realised I really rather had to pee, and there was no way I was walking back to the porta-johns, because they were (a) too far off course and (b) behind me. So Jusko kept an eye out for places I could pee in relative seclusion, on account of it was 8 AM by now and there were regular Sunday morning joggers and cyclists in the park. We found a construction john, but it was in a locked fence that I couldn't navigate in that state. He asked me if I wanted to try to run some. I would have, but not until I had peed. Which I finally did, in some bushes that under normal circumstances wouldn't camouflage a skunk.  Ah! Bliss! 

We ran into Jason again with a mile and a half to go. His golf cart had died, and he was pushing it up the course's one hill. Jusko ran to help him. I just kept going. Just when I was starting to think he'd been gone long enough to push a golf cart wherever it wanted to go, he came back and informed me he'd moved the truck back to the camp so he didn't have to carry anything and I didn't have to walk. I think that was when I proposed to him. 

Dude. I think I see our tent. What had once been a barely distinguishable hump of olive green in a sea of tents, camp chairs, lounge chairs, runners, people dressed as Batman, Spiderman, and a convict (really, dude, that's not nice to do to people who are already hallucinating and running alone in a dark park, Richard!) was now a lone green igloo in a field, surrounded by empty parking lots and the parks cleaning crew. Jusko ran ahead with his camera to "capture the race finish" which was equal parts really sweet and....well, just really funny. But there is, somewhere in Rockwall, Texas, digital proof of me crossing a dusty swath where the finish mats used to be at something resembling a run. This is in addition to the lone official race photo of me, somewhere in the first twelve or fifteen miles. It ain't pretty, but damn if it ain't hardcore.

photo courtesy of Cowgirl Photography
Jusko hung the medal on me, hugged me, and said the most beautiful thing I have ever heard anyone say. "You did it, girl. Let's go home and get you a nap." Yes, let's. 

Loop 10 was for me. I distinctly remember the night on the group message board that people first started talking about signing up for ultramarathons, somewhere between my first Marine Corps and bowing out of Nashville due to injury. Because I'm one of the board admins, I could probably find the exact post if I wanted, but I don't need it. I remember saying, "Yeah, marathons are plenty for me. I can promise you I will never feel the need to do an ultra. That shit's just crazy."

Well, I am now a member of the crazy. I'm an ultra runner. I may not be again for a very long time (and I sure as hell won't make my next attempt while it's above 55 degrees) but once is all you need to claim that. Stupidity like that is forever.

I was a horror show Sunday night, not to mention getting off the plane Tuesday afternoon, but all things considered my legs actually feel pretty good five days out. On the other hand, I still have the cold from hell and can't stop sleeping.

Maybe next time you'll get to hear about my trip to Austin, the pilgrimage to Mellow Johnny's and Juan Pelota Cafe, Harmony, learning to two-step, Sadie the crazy lady, and how the mayor of Rockwall ended up driving me home, but not this time. (And I'm still saving that last one for blackmail purposes, Jusko. Just you wait.)

Now, with extra bling!
While I am unofficially the last El Scorcho finisher (figure that sentence out!) making me, in fact, DFL--those of you not runners, that stands for "dead fucking last"--I managed to place 125th out of 142 50k race starters, plus 58 DNS (did not start). How, you ask, did that happen? I kept going. Other people dropped out after 45k, despite being many hours ahead of me timewise, or 40k (I was the second place 40k finisher); several people did take the option to bow out after 25k and take their medal without the bonus. Quite a few even stopped after 20. So I was DFL, but I still came in ahead of almost twenty people.

All things considered, though, amazingly enough, dead fucking last? Feels pretty good.

29 June 2012

It's the Stupid, Stupid!

The ever-klutzy and graceful FireCat strikes again. At the farmers' market yesterday, I realised I needed to hit up the ATM. Rather than walk the whole two blocks to the bank, I decided to hit up the brand-spanking new ArtsQuest building and swallow the $3 fee. It was 90 degrees so I figured it was worth it.

And then the building bit me.

I wasn't sure if the nearest entrance was unlocked, so I tugged on the door to see. It was. The door swung open easily....across the top of my foot. I was wearing sandals (see: it was 90 degrees out, above). Fortunately, the leather strap stopped the door before it did any more damage than this, which is still plenty for me:


Yes, I have stubby toes.
I have stubby everything. They match.

This is what it looked like this morning after a little bit of debridement and irrigation.  Yes, I'm going to lose that torn nail, probably--hopefully--before the week is out. Yes, that's a pulpy mess on top of my toe where a toe used to be.

And yes, I have my first ultramarathon in two weeks and two days.

It's gonna be awesome, y'all.

(PS: it's true. Hydrogen peroxide really does get blood out of everything. Including leather sandals.)

30 May 2012


Someone recently asked if struggle was a necessary component of growth. For once, I didn't think about plants and trees and how much work it takes to break through the soil. For a tree, there is no other way. For people, I'm not so sure. Mostly, I think there is no other way.  It depends on what you do with it. I often feel like a lot of my struggles have been (frickin) useless, in hindsight. Like, duh. I could have learned that so much easier. (Or, as I once said to my cousin in passing, not realising that it would become her defining mantra for several years, "I have learned my lesson now, can I please have growth? Can I please have my cookie?")

Only, usually......not. Slow as toad to catch on, that's me.

The depression that I struggled with for a bazillion years, undiagnosed and untreated? So frustrating. So many lost years. So much self-sabotage about which I am on my good days only slightly self-deprecating. But it's made me gentler. It's made me know myself so much better, and understand what I need and how to ask for it. Sometimes.

The cancer that I got fourteen years ago? Sucked goat balls. But it ultimately made me happier and enabled me to see how much in love I was, or could be, with my life. It taught me gratitude. It made me closer to my family. It made it easier when my sister got the same cancer two years later because we knew how to deal with it and what to expect. It made me start running. It also (bonus!) gave me tits that had never existed before.

The divorce from a man whom I loved with my entire being, that I thought for sure was finally going to cause me to die of loneliness? Caused me to go back to school for my PhD. Placed me in this amazing wonderful home in a town I never thought I'd even like, but am coming to be rather fond of, with friends I adore. Made me realise what it is I need in a man, what I need in a relationship, and what I need for myself. Is still teaching me how to forgive others. Is still teaching me how to forgive myself. Started my marathon career, which opened the door to friends I can't imagine living without (only some of whom are Marines, believe it or not.) And now my ex-husband has a one-year-old daughter and the career he's always wanted. So hopefully he's received some gifts too, and recognises that they are blessings from the failed love we tried so hard to hang on to.

Was it necessary to have struggled like that? I don't know. Sometimes we get the blessing without the struggle. It just lands in our lap. But most of the time, it's what is. Most of the time, we know of no other way.

Giving and receiving. It's the same gesture.

22 April 2012

The Big Stupid

Pretty funny. The folks at Sunday Scribblings have done it again.

Only I'm not actually training for a marathon at the moment. Marine Corps training doesn't officially begin for me until July 1.

Nope, this time I went for the Big Stupid. That's right, I'm running an ultra.

For those of you not crazy enough to live in the world of endurance sports, an ultramarathon is anything over 26.2 miles. This particular race is the logical (if running at one time for more miles than the average commute can be called logical) next step up, a 50k. Which is, after all, "only" another five miles past marathon distance.

Yes, I know I've only been out of PT ten months. Yes, I know it's incredibly masochistic to run 31 miles. In July. In Texas. In the middle of the night. With a new moon so there's no natural light. But I was sort of talked into it by Nita, Jimmy, Zeus, and Gunz (none of whom, it bears mentioning, are actually running the damn thing this year except Zeus, despite their promises. Though Nita might actually be there for ground support, which is good since she lives down the road. I'd hate to have to kill one of my favourite people. On her birthday, no less. You'll notice I didn't tell anyone what age you were turning. You're welcome.) and cemented when I found a roundtrip flight to DFW for less than $240.

Somehow it hasn't yet occurred to me that this will be even harder than any of my marathons. I'm hoping the ignorance will keep me at my current level of insanity.

Also, I seem to recall once saying, "I will never do an ultra. Those people are fucking crazy." Guess it's time to book that room at the hat factory.

22 March 2012

RR Shamrock 8k and Half Marathon, Code Name: Billie's Bounce

First of all, if you don't understand the code name, you clearly don't listen to enough jazz. Nor have you met Deb's mom.

This is the race I accidentally spectated last year, having signed up for the so-called "Dolphin Challenge" sometime before all the ass-foolery that sidelined me. So I had a special appointment with St. Patrick's Day weekend in Virginia Beach this year.

Um, you might have noticed some talk about my complete lack of training. There was a lot of that. Some of you seriously underestimate my ability to undertrain. I was deeply worried not only about potential reinjury (honestly, though, aren't you getting tired of hearing that? I'm getting tired of worrying about it, frankly) but also complete mortification and being lapped by marathoners who started 15 miles and 90 minutes south of me. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. (See? I even got lapped by this blog post.)

Crazy week, crazy semester, packed in about fifteen minutes Thursday night without doing laundry (which resulted in a very funky sports bra experience during the 8k, I am sorry to say) and by the time I left Friday morning I was sure I'd forgotten something, or my leg was going to fall off, or I was going to be arrested on entering the State of Virginia, or I don't know what all. I just didn't feel focused. I did, however, manage not to get lost driving around the Hampton Roads area for the first time in the history of the universe. Not once all weekend. I did miss a turn, but it was hiding behind a shrub. Not even my iPhone was expecting it to be there. Went straight to the expo, missing the Blisses, Jerry, and Gunz by about three minutes. Of course. Spent about a minute and a half in it picking up both bibs, scoring a pair of my favourite Mizunos for less than my monthly internet bill, and yakking with Team Hoyt VB and these fine ladies from LiveSTRONG, as they know a friend of mine from last year's Ride for the Roses.

LiveSTRONG ladies say hi Rica!

Left the expo in a big hurry, ran into the only other two people I know in the area, one of whom I've known since high school, checked into the hotel, and hoofed it up Atlantic Avenue to meet the crew for dinner.

Whereupon of course it started raining. Bucketing, actually. By the time I got to the restaurant, my hair was soaked, my Chucks were soaked, my underwear was soaked--then I hugged Gunz and Gunz was also soaked. Hey, I warned him. Had a sad bowl of mac and cheese that was actually quite good and seemed to be penne in alfredo sauce, but I really wanted chicken alfredo. Alas, it was Friday. It was Lent. I may not be really good about being Catholic in ways that matter, but for the life of me I can't eat meat on a Lenten Friday. To save my life.

After a certain amount of beer,


and several goofy multi-race plans for the fall (go ahead, Gunz, I dare you; no, I double devil-dog dare you to run back-to-back marathons on back-to-back weekends) and lovely conversations with Deb's mom Billie (the titular one, in fact), I was escorted back to my hotel on the ass end of the planet--seriously, it's the only thing further out of town than my start corral--and only managed to be a moderate asshole to Gunz after he delivered me to my doorstep. I must be losing my touch. Anyway, got upstairs to my room and a text and turned on the TV just in time to see the last six seconds of holy shit possibly the biggest upset in the history of NCAA basketball. Seriously. The one weekend I'm not in town, and this happens. We do love us some CJ, here in Doodlehem.

Needless to say, that wrecked any pretense of sleep for the next hour. Add to that the beer, the restlessness, the general stupidity, and I kid you not I was up every 90 minutes until 5:45 when the alarm went off. I was not a happy FireCat.

The 8k was kind of fun--the best thing about a distance like that is it's an automatic PR. Yes, I've never run an 8k before. They can't count to eight in Pennsylvania, everything has to be a multiple of five. Didn't feel awful, didn't feel great, just ran. And then they gave me beer and cookies. I was back in the hotel by eleven, tried desperately (and failed) to nap for a lot of the afternoon. Caught up on some reading for school. Laid low. Didn't even get down to the beach the entire weekend because any time I wasn't running, it was cold and grey and foggy and windy as hell. Seriously?

Oh, also let me not forget to mention the extreme stomach distress that immediately followed the 8k. I attributed it to something weird I'd eaten (probably the Filet O Fish on the drive down, because...you know, Friday) but things were....ahem. Well. Unpleasant. And mostly not in a way that you can take care of by puking in the middle of the street, which as we all know is perfectly acceptable behaviour during a distance race. So I was really worried about Sunday. Didn't eat a lot at dinner, stayed with whole wheat pasta with chicken and broccoli, no cheese whatsoever, no dessert, no beer...all in all it was a very sad dinner. Also, there was no Sweet Caroline sing-along this year, because we couldn't get reservations there. Still, good craic and I didn't actually get sick during dinner.

By Sunday morning the worst of the grumblies had settled down, and I hadn't yarfed in like 15 hours, so I figured I was good to go. Or as good as it was going to get. I had no plan. My plan was to run until I fell over, let the medics tape me up, and then run some more. Actually, that's not too far from my usual plan. I decided to stay with Deb, who was staying with her mom Billie, for as long as I could, judging from the times at the 8k. And damn, those ladies are some fine pacers. Billie just puts her head down and goes. Deb gives her advice or split times or pace from time to time, but mostly just does the border collie thing and keeps Billie in sight. I trained my eyes on Deb's Michigan visor and imprinted on them like a little baby duck (apologies to one of you, because I know I stole that from someone who ran Wineglass in the shitting-down rain last year, but I forget who) and just kept waddling and quacking. 

Despite feeling like I was going to die a couple of times, I also felt good some of the time, and managed to keep up their pace until about Mile 8.5, when I started to get that head-squeezy feeling that says, "Um, you should walk now." And, really, if that's going to happen, Fort Story is not a bad place for it. So I let my mama ducks go and did some check-in with myself. And my self was starting to think this was stupid. On the other hand, there were no fewer than FOUR, count them FOUR beer stops (ok, one was the Hashers on the return loop) so I was getting lots of good carbs at least, some of it served to me by my friend Moo in a green dress. (Let me explain that Moo is a guy. Thus, green dress being notable.) More than anything, I was tired, and warm. Nothing particularly hurt. No, wait. I mean, it hurt, but it didn't....you know, hurt hurt. 

Hit Mile 10 in pretty decent time. Hit Mile 11 in...wait a minute. Is that right? That can't be right. Hit the LiveSTRONG corner right at Mile 13 and realised that unless I fell over and required medical assistance in the next 150 yards, I was somehow going to PR in a race for which I was completely untrained. I'll be damned. The Nita Training Plan works.

Hit the mat, got my medal, got my cookies and beer, found Deb and her mom and Jerry (who had also all had really good races) and stood around kicking ourselves for not signing up for alerts for Gunz, who was running the full. In a kilt. Because he is an idiot. But he's our idiot.

There are some things you can never unsee.
This is one of them. You're welcome.

After a good while I found Flex. Flex! Flexmeister! Flexorama! Also known as Jon Leiding, Flex had just tied himself to four other men and set a Guinness World's Record by running the marathon in 3:06 (which is also within 90 seconds of his PR not tied to anybody, as far as I can remember).

I love Flex. Big Flexy love.
Stood around yakking with Flex and his wife, Nicole, and Shep. Still no Gunz. Decide to head for my car. It was then that I remembered that Gunz is like Goldbug from my old Richard Scarry books. He's always popping up somewhere when I'm not looking for him. Therefore, I proceeded to run smack damn into him. And he did not look particularly good. In fact, he looked like I'd felt most of the day before, like he just wanted to find the nearest couch and sack out for three or four days. Still, it was nice to know he wasn't dead.

Ran into Nicole around then and ended up waiting with her for her husband, finishing his first full marathon. When he finally limped in, he looked like hell, but once he crossed the finish line reality set in and he was floating on air. I have never seen someone more proud of an accomplishment, and I doubt anyone deserves to be. In the last year and a half, Brian has lost 150 pounds and started exercising for the first time really ever. And here he is, a marathoner. Damn, Whitaker. Way to earn that medal, bro. Wear it proud. (PS, you look really good in running shorts.)

By this time I was hungry, cranky, having post-race, post-seeing-my-friends letdown, and had a six-hour drive home. And class to teach in the morning. Ugh. So I hit the road. Made pretty decent time up the Eastern Shore, but still didn't get home in time to hear Lehigh lose to Xavier (thanks for keeping me updated via constant text, Deb!) As usual, couldn't be arsed to take a hot soaky bath. Just went straight the fuck to bed. Woke up the next morning to discover that Billie had placed second in her age group! Go mom! Also woke the next morning to discover that my quads were, in fact, entirely trashed. Colour me surprised. 

Needless to say, I did not hold office hours in my third floor office on the side of a mountain Monday morning. If anybody really needed me, they could follow the creaking to the first floor lounge.

So. Not a particularly memorable race, partly because I was focusing really hard on keeping up (the thing I remember most clearly on the course, sadly, is the remains of a car-flattened fox in First Landing State Park) but memorable as always for the company I kept, and the stupid ideas we came up with for next time.

18 February 2012

Do Not Adjust Your Monitor

This isn't going to be a very exciting post. It's just going to be a place-holder. Because I'm pooped. I'm not depressed. I'm quite happy, in fact, for the most part. I love my program, I love my department, I love love love my friends and my research and my home and my goofy kitties and most of my life. Except that whole can't get a date with a single guy thing.

I'm just fucking exhausted.

In the midst of all the exhaustion, I got a cold, which was also fun, but the bottom line is something is decidedly out of whack. That feeling that you get right after finals, when all you can do is sleep for about a day and a half? I feel like that about four days out of the week. Each of the last three weekends has lost at least one day to sleep. Today I slept until four-thirty. In the afternoon. And I'm about ready to go back to bed (it's twenty to ten). My beloved chiropractor (hi Lauren) has put me on an adrenal supplement, which has helped. That in itself is scary. That this is an improvement.

I'm also really irked because it was warm and sunny today, almost fifty degrees, and I woke up just as it was getting grey. It was running weather. And once again there I wasn't.  I have a race in a month. For which I haven't run more than three miles since....oh, November.

Last time we checked, my bloodwork was fine. I'm not experiencing any other thyroid symptoms. In fact, excepting the Martian Death Whooping Crane Plague last week (which everybody on campus had), I'm not experiencing any other symptoms at all, except excessive stupidity. But that may be all the Marxist theory I've been reading.

Speaking of which, guess what I have to go do. After I nap, maybe.

02 February 2012

Unceremoniously Yanked Out of Our Burrows

English Department Eddie (yes that nightcap on his head is a fleece sock, and yes Viv made him a construction paper shadow) says "six more weeks of winter."

FireCat (yes, I've got my hair up in a wad because I didn't feel like showering before class, and yes that ass is entirely made of pea coat) says "six more weeks of birthday."

Campus security is lucky neither of us bit anyone during this photo shoot.

28 January 2012


“It may be a derivation of Naraticong, meaning ‘river beyond the island,’ Roaton or Raritanghe, names of a group which had come from across the Hudson and displaced the previous population known as Sanhican (who moved farther into the interior). Alternatively, it is a Dutch pronunciation of the Algonquian wawitan or rarachons, meaning ‘forked river’ or ‘stream overflows.’”

River of my childhood, gauge of every friend I had over, coaxing them to wade deeper and deeper, always getting us in trouble--who was my mom kidding by forbidding it? We always went in. I couldn't make her see the river would never hurt me--all she knew was the dam at Rockafellow's Mill and Paul's daughter's body washing up--but my river knew me. My river was skipped shale and the green leaf red rock river smell and the willow trailing its fingers between the skater-bugs. Seen from all angles over the years, countless hours traipsing along its northern floodplain meadow, scaling the jagged shelves on the farther south shore--even now when I'm raging inside and bolt up from the table and bark that I'm going for a walk, they always know where to find me. On the bridge, watching the current, always facing downstream towards the future, towards what I’ve cast in as it's carried away.

The river has offered many gifts these forty years: half-broken crockery; catfish; stones that still line my kitchen sill; half an eel drug home by an ambitious barn cat; snappers the size of hubcaps; old Mason jars washed out and filled with flowering field weeds, Queen Anne's lace and blackeyed susans and goldenrod and thistle; my mother's mashed-potato spoon, the one piece of kitchenware we'll fight over when she's gone;

Mosquito bites and scraped shins and the stitches through my eyebrow from pickup hockey with the Skolits boys, all twice my puny thirteen-year-old size. The stolen cigarettes and shattered brown glass bottles of my angry adolescence, the stolen kisses with John on our bikes those awful, sticky, sweet, awkward teenage years when the river was my only constant friend;

Three miles and twenty years downstream, the iron bridge, kayak eskimo rolls and mammoth spiders in the haybale and sweetness of your body in the cool shade of the full moon under the bridge all those July midnights when we should have both been elsewhere.

22 January 2012

Material Witness

Recently a class was asked to respond to the first chapter of Walden as it regards materialism and material goods. What I had to say rather surprised me. It's probably far more personal than some of the other responses (not to mention twice as long. I'm the lone PhD student in a cross-listed course otherwise filled with undergraduate upperclassmen.) It also came fast on the heels of an in-class writing assignment asking us to define, as close as we could in the ten or so minutes allotted, what we meant by the term spirituality; I believe my initial response was something along the lines of, "Jesus, Ed."

Apparently it's going to be one of those semesters.

It's all well and good to agree with Thoreau's thoughts on materialism as a theory, but as it plays out in our own lives, it's sometimes another story. To wit: the past six years have been a very curious journey for me and my stuff. As anyone who's ever been through a divorce can attest, the ceremonial "that's mine, this is yours" is about so much more than simply who gets the glass barware (him) and who somehow ends up with not one but both cocktail shakers (me). It becomes about power, revenge (though thankfully not in our case; most of the division was rather simple--he for the most part just took his marbles and went home), memory, sentimentality, and ultimately sometimes about our very idea of who we are versus who we thought we were.

That process is weird enough, but I then spent the next five years living with my parents, with the bulk of my belongings, save for some clothes and books, in storage. A year ago, when I was finally reunited with my furniture, the majority of my books, the rest of my clothes, and all that miscellaneous.....well, stuff....I had a couple of realizations. The first of these was precisely how much crap a life accumulates. The second was how much of it is truly unnecessary. I lived without my X-Files lunchbox just fine--why save it? Well, because of the third realization. While I did donate, pass on, recycle, or just plain heave quite a bit of stuff, I also kept quite a bit. After five years of driving past the storage facility and waving at the packed-up symbols of my exile, here I was, rediscovering who I had been during the divorce, and how well it meshed with who I was now.

I don't know if you know this, but it's hard living in your parents' house as an adult. There are space wars. In my case, there were also stuff wars, about how many belongings I had and how much they encroached upon the "public" areas of the house (which, of course, was filled with "their" stuff) and whether or not that was ok for everyone involved. I won't get into that here, but suffice it to say that unpacking into my own apartment again was nothing short of revelatory. My stuff, c'est moi. In addition to things I'd forgotten I had, there were things I was surprised I didn't have (really? he left me the blender but took the iron??)--and those things were and are not just a representation of the pain of our separation, but also of the resilience of my soul and heart. Here I am again, me and my stuff. All in one place. For someone who spent the better part of six years feeling like she was in limbo, having a home and your stuff to put it in is a pretty empowering feeling. There's a huge difference, it turns out, between deciding to rid yourself of the trappings of materialism and being forcefully separated from your possessions.

(For the record, I kept the X-Files lunchbox.)