Wednesday, July 23, 2014

essential

For me, finding stories is all about taking the time to stop and follow your curiosity whenever something sparks it. That’s sometimes harder to do than it sounds (you’re busy, you’re tired, you’re doing something else, etc.), but it’s so essential.
Rebecca Skloot, via here

Sunday, July 20, 2014

a little bit homeless (if there is such a thing)

I've got the routine down now, so that when my fellow runners ask me, "Do you shower at work?" I know how to answer them. The question comes up every time I tell another non-res member (i.e. not a resident in a transitional living facility, i.e. not a person who is homeless) that my office isn't too far from skid row, and that I go straight to work after our early morning runs. They usually relate stories of cleaning up somewhere after a run, using baby wipes or something. One person said something about febreeze, but I think she was being facetious. I couldn't tell.

So here it is: after I stop for coffee, I pull into my parking garage, park my car, and gather all of my things: purse, food bag (breakfast and lunch), getting ready bag (deoderant, change of undergarments, shoes, makeup, etc.), and my clothes on a hanger. I take the elevator to my floor and walk fast to the bathroom, hoping that nobody sees me in running clothes and quickly-caking sweat. I open the door to the bathroom and find it empty, since only a few colleagues are crazy enough to start work at this hour (about 6:45am). I unpack my getting ready bag, plug my curling iron in, and get to it. Washing my face, rinsing my whole body, putting on clean clothes, blow-drying the sweat out of my hair (gross, I know), putting on lotion and makeup, then putting the finishing touches on my hair (usually hair up, bangs fixed with the curling iron).

The routine doesn't end there. I lug all my stuff to my office, and hang my washcloth and sweat-soaked sports bra (yes, it's only 3 miles we run, but I sweat a lot, ok?) on the hook on the back of my office door to dry during the day. The first week I laid them out on my back counter, hoping nobody would look carefully enough to see what was back there. But my boss did, and tactfully suggested the hook idea. Unfortunately, I hadn't planned ahead for the days when someone might come in and close my door, thereby seeing my dirty washcloth and sports bra. The first time this happened, my coworker and I were interviewing a candidate for an open position. I tried to laugh it off, but my cheeks turned red. The second time it was two male coworkers who came into my office with a question, and before I even knew what was happening, they closed the door behind them. Their eyes moved together from the washcloth and sports bra to me, puzzled. Then, as if one queue, we all burst out into laughter. I tried to explain, but they shook their heads like they didn't want to hear it. "Do you live here, Betsy?" one said through his laughter.

The irony isn't lost on me: for that one morning every week, after running with some homeless guys around downtown, I feel a little bit homeless. But I am not. I laugh with my coworkers, pack my bags at the end of the day, and throw the wash cloth and sports bra in my wash basket at home. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

reading strengthens the soul

Because they can be consumed in a sitting, we tend to think of short stories as the equivalent of literary bonbons, small bites to satisfy a small craving or to fill a little space in the day. Short they may be, and yet the work of digesting a good story is anything but quick... The best short stories I've read over these years have seemed to require nearly as much of me, the reader, as of the writer, a kind of passionate engagement that challenges not only my intellect but my humanity. Reading, reading actively, strengthens the soul.
-Katrina Kenison, Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2006

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

places you will not go

After a Back on My Feet run from Skid Row to the Water and Power Building, where we watched the sun rise over Los Angeles. A quick prose-poem of sorts.

Are there places you will not go? Maybe they are places you believe to be off limits to you. Where your type of person doesn't go. So far you wouldn't even know the way.

And so you don't even think about how much you really want to go, you don't bother to wonder whether the sunrise looks different from there or if the breeze is a little cooler, the stars a little brighter. You have never felt the urge to climb the steps that lead there because you question if your legs could carry you the whole way. You don't want to brave feeling alone or out of place, you are afraid of needing to run out, and fast.

But what is the alternative, the overcrowded streets you live along now, where your home is as small and flimsy as a cardboard box?


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

preparing for Kenya: buying scrubs and fostering fresh eyes, an open heart

My trip to Kenya is just a little over a month away. I'm starting to get more intentional about my preparations - including asking a few experienced friends for input or advice about travel to Africa, writing about Africa, etc.

One friend, who traveled as a photographer with Alabaster Mobile Clinic on this same trip two years ago, responded with this email:

Tips? 

Stay away from elephants
Embrace being smelly
Just love the kids, kids all over the world need love hugs and laughter. It transcends language
Pray

There is a new scrub store on walnut, cross street Catalina. I just bought scrubs there! They all fit funny so don't stress about it :) 

(Yes, I'd confided in her my hesitations about wearing scrubs - required attire as part of the clinics we'll be running. How will I know if my butt looks big without being able to try them on? Glad she recommended a store to check out.)

Another friend, Amber, lives in east Africa (Uganda - a wholly different country than Kenya, but in the same region). She's also in the middle of an MFA program in creative nonfiction and is writing about her transition to life in Uganda as an expat, and about conflicts and issues she and her young family face. Her blog is great, and hopefully soon she'll have more published pieces to read. She passed along this an important essay written by a Kenyan man about writing about Africa. His use of satire is effective. As in, it has made me afraid to write about Africa. Here's an excerpt:

Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

I talked to Amber about this briefly when I got to see her a few weeks ago, and she told me to just write what I see and hear and feel, and worry about the politics of what I've written in the revisions. I'm hoping that I'll be able to see Kenya, and the people we meet, with fresh eyes and an open heart and mind, enough to write about them with due generosity and thoughtfulness.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

picking up the pace in the second half

I had been running for a few years before I paid any attention to things like "progressive runs" or "negative splits." These training objectives are based on the idea that finishing faster than you started improves your fitness. So with each mile, you run a little faster. Sometimes the goal can be even simpler: just run the second half of your route faster than the first half.

I don't do these kinds of runs often, because, like I've said before, I'm stronger at starting than finishing. This is true in running, and it's true in a lot of other areas of my life. I start fast and strong but then lose energy and focus, and poop out.

BUT! I am on a quest to change this, in running and in life. Today marks the halfway point of 2014. The first half of my year has been pretty good. There are a few areas of life that I'm trying to focus on, and in a few there has been noticeable movement forward (including in writing!). So I'm not really trying to make up for things I've ignored during these first six months. I just want to finish strong, with my purpose in mind.

When I do the "second half faster than the first half" style of progressive run, I usually plan an out-and-back route. So I'm imagining myself doing the little turn around and picking up the pace. It might hurt a little during this second half, but the pain is what tells me something is happening.

Happy half of 2014!

Monday, June 30, 2014

a night of wedding dancing is the best night of the year


Those who know me should be able to spout off a few basic facts pretty easily: I love coffee, I am an introvert, I talk about Pennsylvania with romantic nostalgia. I also love weddings, especially the dancing. Lucky for me, my friends keep getting married. So not only do I get a few good nights of dancing in each year, but I've also learned a lot about how to navigate the dance floor.

Here are the characters you'll find and how to dance with them:

The two girls who wish they were in the club: These two women are friends and have stuck together the whole evening. Their dresses are a just a little too short and too tight, and they are wearing heels that are just a little too high to be classy. Even though there are available men at the wedding, they have chosen to dance just the two of them. They help each other perfect their club-dancing moves. Song: Fancy by Iggy Azalea. Leave them be, they are enjoying their small world that is revolving around them.

The white man: He is in his element when a classic rock song comes one. At this point shirts are untucked, sleeves are rolled up (if they weren't already), fists are pumped, air guitars are played. Even though I am white, I still don't get it. Song: Don't Stop Believing by Journey or Sweet Child of Mine by Guns and Roses. Sing the lyrics if you know them and try to enjoy it. That's all they really want, is for people to love this music as much as they do.

The young skinny guy who is dancing alone: His moves consist of the robot and making some swirly motions around his head with his hands. His demeanor is self-serious. Nobody else knows who he came with or how he knows the bride and groom. He semi-secretly wants to be the center of any dance circle that forms. Song: Midnight City by M83. This is actually a tricky one. You will either want to steer clear if he is on some kind of substance (or you think he should be), or he may actually be really fun to dance with.

The kids: Everyone is secretly jealous of them because they don't need moves, they just run around and have the time of their lives. Parent's pick them up and spin them around. They are up past their bedtime and loving it. Song: They can dance to anything. DANCE WITH THEM.

The single woman in her thirties: She is well-dressed and well-put-together but has a limited number of moves, which includes raising her hands when someone is in the dance circle and bopping back and forth with her palms facing out at her bust line.* Song: Anything by Beyonce. Especially pre-2005. Don't feel sorry for this woman and her dated dance moves, this is one of her best nights of the year.

*If you didn't catch on, this is me.
**Photo via a fellow instagrammer who attended a recent wedding with me. Please don't sue me.