Baby We Were Blog to Run (Sorry)

Growing up, I played lots of sports: soccer, swimming, softball, tennis, and even cheerleading (that season of my life having been written by network-approved show runners before being handed back to the eccentric creator with both a vision and hoarding problem). Or maybe I didn’t so much “play” as “show up to most practices and bring oranges for meets/games.” I was hopeless at soccer–in my small town in the 1980’s, there were no girls’ teams, so the eight or so young women interested in playing were divided on the league’s different teams, making it significantly easier for coaches and teammates to ignore us. This I did for six years, mostly because I got trophies and pizza parties out of it.  In this much different America, one did not just go get pizza any time one felt like it. Pizza, and specifically Pizza Hut, was a special occasion deal, and its faux-stained glass pendant lamps with pepperoni bring back feelings of feeling warm and safe and full. Shitty pizza is my madeleine.

In swimming, softball, and tennis, I showed more promise, initially. In each of these, I was the strongest beginner, a bit of a natural at backstroke and fielding and serving, though in maybe nothing else about each sport, and it’s possible that this lack of well-rounded athleticism was my downfall. Or it could have been my total lack of work ethic. While in my adulthood I’ve somehow morphed into a hard-working, task oriented, on schedule kind of person, I lacked this drive as a kid. I did everything I was supposed to (I was a good girl and Jesus was my boyfriend), but I just didn’t really try. Mostly, I didn’t have to. The one thing I’ve ever been very good at is reading–I started early and strong–and since school is pretty much just reading then proving you understood what you read, school was easy. It was too easy, so easy that I started to get into trouble because I had too much free time and had begun, in all seriousness, a revenge business. (I maybe hadn’t yet read the part of the Bible that forbids running a vengeance agency out of your bedroom.) The main lesson I learned from childhood was that minimum effort was all that was necessary to do well. That and banana clips are for whores (long story).

The problem with this philosophy was that whenever I encountered a scenario in which my half-assed effort failed to yield full-assed results, I quit rather than try harder. This approach was modeled to me in part by the character of my hometown, whose motto was Hoc Futurum Amet, or in English, Is This Going To Be On the Test? It’s an attitude I’ve worked hard to move beyond, and I’ve been so successful that it now only seems to emerge in faculty meetings. Bounty hunter meetings. Bounty hunter=me. Not at all employed by a university and fearful of professional blowback.

But it wasn’t just my attitude toward athletics that was rotten–my body was, too. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I had problems running. I’d start just fine, but at some point, usually a few minutes in, I’d double-over in pain with what most people call a “stitch” but felt more like a stick being shoved repeatedly and with apparent glee into my side. The pain was always shocking and ultimately frustrating because the only way to stop it was to stop running. That meant that most practices for soccer, softball, tennis, cheerleading, and rugby (I played a semester in college because I have no idea) found me walking far behind my teammates, clutching my side and considering faking a sudden mountain lion attack just to get the fuck out of there. In a life clogged with moments of embarrassment and self-loathing, those are some of the juiciest.

Whenever I’d get these pains, the advice of my teachers and coaches was to run it out, the idea being that I was in pain from running because I wasn’t good at running so I should run more to not be in pain but first run through the pain. But it never worked–I never stopped getting the stitches, and I began to work out a simple math: running=pain. It’s nice to have a few things we can cling to as absolute, immutable in their truth, and for me, this became holy doctrine.

And then I made a human.

As I’ve said earlier, for me, having a child seriously fucked with my life, and mostly in some really amazing positive ways if you’re good with having someone constantly shove notes to you under the door while you’re going to the bathroom. (I should mention that, at almost 5, his “notes” are a series of squiggly lines that he later tells me is a song about butts.) His birth was something akin to a glitter bomb: it made most everything prettier but also got in the gears of some things and now they don’t work so good. I gave birth to my tiny overlord three hours before my own birthday. That’s one of the things that doesn’t work that well anymore.

The birthday he was nearly born on was my 35th, and in the three months of healing and nursing and also working full-time (because U-S-A! U-S-A!), I began to think about the fact that he would be growing strong and healthy and crazy just as my body would begin to slow down, starting its slow decline to bone-dom. I worried that as he began to kick down the door to the world, running toward adventure and newness and probably the road, I’d be too slow to keep up, to play or keep him safe.

But if I’m being fully honest, I also became overwhelmed by the fact of my mortalness. I had never really cared about staying alive before because what was I? Just another bone bag, one of billions of blips. The world would be fine without me, which is not to say I courted death, but I also didn’t swerve out of its way. And yet now, I knew that the world would not be okay if I left early, or at least his world wouldn’t. I was an older parent, and when I made the choice to have him, I accepted the responsibility of sticking around as long as I could.

So I started running.

Well, I started trying to run.

It started with Facebook, which for future generations reading this is what we used to call The Mind-Mother, Blessed May We Be In Her Ubiquitous Sight. An ex-boyfriend of a friend whose life I got to peek into (because seriously, what the fuck are we all doing to each other?) posted that after going through a program called Couch-to-5K, he was successfully running three miles several times a week. I got curious and found out that it’s a running schedule designed to make non-runners runners. It starts with alternating walking and running (the latter mostly in bursts of 30 to 60 seconds to begin with), leading over nine weeks to the successful completion of five km (or just over three miles for those in the U-S-A! U-S-A!). Running for one minute, I thought? I can do that.

I could not do that. At the end of the minute-cycles, I was overcome with less a sense of physical stress than a deep and dark existential gloom. Our bodies are our prisons. We are all doomed to decay. Why am I sweating there? But I pressed on, and reader–I did it. I completed the nine-week Couch-to-5K  program in just 16 weeks. I became, despite all odds, a runner. A very, very slow and awkward runner.

But what of the cramps, you ask. What of the debilitating pains that had earlier kept you from achieving the athletic greatness that surely had been your destiny? Well, I still got them, in fact, I still get them now, despite running over nine miles a week. After consulting two physical therapists, I found out that some people are just prone to these kinds of cramps, that something about our physiology makes them more likely than in other people and is not related, in these cases, solely to being in-shape. And while people who get them may always get them, there are techniques one can employ in preventing and treating these pains. And to that I say: THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN FUCKING NICE TO KNOW IN 1987, P.E. TEACHERS! What the fuck did you study in college, y’all? Your best advice to a child in pain is to run it out?! A pox on you! A POX ON YOU ALL!!!

But anywho, I run now and I’m slow and it’s sometimes still painful, but I feel great and have nicer legs. The challenge comes in, naturally, finding time to run. Mostly I go the gym, conveniently located between home and work which also has a kids room staffed by one of my former bounty hunter clients. I actually enjoy running on a treadmill because it’s the 21st century, which means every piece of equipment comes with its own television, and as someone without cable, this is my opportunity to catch up on “Law and Order: SVU” and home improvement/real estate shows set primarily, and inexplicably, in Canada.

But I often wish I had the time and stamina to go a bit further out, to run in the foothills of the Sandia mountains which border Albuquerque to the east. Albuquerque, and really all of New Mexico, may have its problems, many of which are detailed in a little-known documentary series called “Breaking Bad.” This place is stubbornly unlike anywhere else in America, which is something to both celebrate and bemoan, but one thing we have going for us are the number and accessibility of some pretty amazing trails, something I never realized when I was younger and refused to own sensible shoes on principle. Usually I have pretty legitimate excuses for not going to run up there, but the point of this long, long, long blog is that, on Monday, I went there.

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I went running in a screen shot from a Western.

Yes, it meant that all day I played catch-up at work and was a tad behind even two days later, but it also means that I can sometimes do this, provided my tracking skills are not needed to hunt down scofflaws that day.

So, as of day 5 (I think? God, this project is stupid), I finally did something I actually wanted to do. Feels like success, or at least the palpable absence of abject failure.

 

 

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Blog of Bones

This weekend was a failure. Not by every metric, of course—I survived, was not imprisoned, did not fall victim to a gang of old timey grifters—so in some ways it was a win. But in the sense that I would do something on each of the two days in line with my attempt to live by doing things I wanted to but normally didn’t, there was, as we say in Nuevo Mexico, mucho nope. [1]

I’ll speak of what I did do in a moment, but what kept me from fulfilling the spirit of the challenge (to, in the less than thirty days I have in my thirties, engage daily in an activity my life usually precludes me from doing) was what I referred to earlier: a paucity of both time and money. I’ve never had money, and so that feeling isn’t entirely new, but having a full-time job and small child has changed how I understand time on a fundamental level, Star Trek wormhole-style, like my son was a tiny Q beamed here to fuck with all of my established notions of reality and truth. [2]

Part of what I hoped for in committing to this mini-project was that, when pressed by a public airing of my intentions, I’d find that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t have time or money, but rather I’d ceased to see the full potential for experience in each day and through intentional living, I’d see these openings once again.

That is, so far, bullshit.

It is possible for me to spend some money, but only if it’s taken from somewhere else, like bills or groceries or wine, and there’d be a heavy price to pay for skimping on any of those. It is sometimes possible for me to devote time to what I want to do, but again, only if it’s taken from elsewhere. Something, and someone, must suffer. I can not fulfill my job commitments (like I said earlier, as a bounty hunter I’ve got a lot on my plate) or I can not fulfill my family duties. The second is the really the only one with enough wiggle room, but in order for me to check out of what I need to do with my son, someone else has to take over. My freedom, the fulfillment of my desires, requires a person I love to take on extra burdens. This is a rough math, and it’s kept me in a pattern that both stifles and supports me.

Example: Saturday. My day with my son, solo-style. His interest in dinosaurs has recently been renewed with the kind of fervency particular to the under-9 set. Five year olds aren’t casually interested in anything—they’re snake-dancing, tongue-talking converts, howling on street corners the gospel of the pink pony/princess/power ranger dinosaur they love. For days, he’d been pressing me to take him hunting for dinosaur bones. Current selections from the local library had told him of many different kinds of dinosaur bones discovered here in New Mexico: tyrranosaurus rex, quetzalcoatlus, whatever the duckbilled ones are called. As Saturday was the first day we’d have to try our hand at digging, I promised him a trip to the volcanoes on the west side of the city that day. And here’s the downside of teaching your kids things like days of the week or talking—they learn, and they remember. All industries reliant on selling advertising space should employ legions of preschoolers because those fuckers will not take no for an answer.

And so we planned to look for bones after nap. He’d need a nap not to be a jerk, and I’d need his nap to not be a jerk. But it’s also the time I use for writing, and I had concocted a plan (my live-it-up plan) to work on a piece to send to a fancy place I’m ascared of. [3] And yet, as sometimes happens when you develop plans around the behavior of a tiny tyrant, things went awry. He did not nap, there was no writing, and so my accomplishment of the day was hiking for 90 minutes with my son and dog, taking breaks to dig in the path while making sounds to indicate possible groundbreaking scientific discoveries.

If you’re thinking that this all actually sounds like a lot of fun, you’re right since you agree with me. It was a beautiful winter day—our layers kept us warm and our noses were chilled enough for the day to feel seasonal. I am a lucky person to get to have moments of such uncomplicated wonder. I get to have a lot of that in my life; I just don’t get to choose how a lot of it happens.

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A tiny paleontologist who is, sometimes, also the dinosaur he is hunting for.

Almost all of my life is about what I must do, and I frequently get grumpy at that. But I’m also prone to deep and corrosive levels of guilt (one of my most favorite things to do when trying to go to sleep at night is to think about all of the shitty things I’ve done and all the people with whom I’m no longer friends, undoubtedly because of my selfishness or sadness or stench), and it’s this proclivity that keeps me from asking too much of others so that I can eke out space for myself. It’s not that I’m selfless, but I’m so selfish that when I get a little, I want more, but don’t want to pay the necessary emotional cost. I want my cake / I want to eat it / I want it to be free.

If you’re wondering how I’m able to write this blog if I have so little time, it’s because I have not been doing some bounty hunter-related stuff and now I’m pretty behind. I’ve got a lot of bounty hunter spreadsheets and emails to get to. Why would some entity want an Excel document accounting for every minute of my bounty hunter time for the next four months? Man—what you don’t know about bounty hunters. This gig seems glamorous, but at least half of it is directing students, I mean, clients to read the syllabus. Contract—the contract. I’m a bounty hunter, after all. Now I’ve got to track down a little lady goes by the name of Starla, last seen hummin’ around an Allsup’s in Truth or Consequences. She got a real soft spot for those day-old chimichangas, likes em like she likes her men: half-price, withered, and full of beans.

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Behold the Allsup’s chimichanga, the sixth wonder of New Mexico.

[1] No one actually says this.

[2] Nerrrrrrrrrrrd

[3] New Mexicans for real say “ascared”

Blog of the Bicentennial Baby

I am a fire dragon, or so says the Chinese zodiac. Born in 1976, I am also a Bicentennial Baby (as evidence, please note my white skin, blue eyes, and red hair–starred with freckles, I’m a walking American flag). This means that most visits to thrift stores yield some kind of tsotchke celebrating the year of my birth, enforcing my suspicions about my inherent specialness. (Sorry, millennials–no one got that jazzed about 1987.) But this also means that in just under a month, I will be forty years old.

This is significant because I’m the first person to ever go through it, so as you can imagine there’s a lot of pressure to do it right. I’m cognizant of the heavy responsibility I have to guide future generations in making this transition with grace, raging against the dying of the light but also, you know, getting the fuck out of the way.

Really, though, I don’t care for what’s happening and it gives me tummy aches, but that could be menopause. I’m glad that, despite the many ways in which I flirted with other conclusions, I’m still alive. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been and working a kind of middle-aged hotness in which I don’t “look good” but rather “look good for…” I have a lovely family and a frequently infuriating job that still allows me to do what I enjoy and am moderately talented at: Bounty hunting. It’s not for everyone, but I look good in leather and own lots of jewelry with feathers, so it was a natural career move.

But I don’t really want to talk about turning shorty. (I have trouble saying the word sometimes.) Instead, I am focusing on that I am in my thirties, and a woman’s thirties are a time of infinite possibilities, or so the tampon box says. Therefore, I have decided to spend my final month as a thirtysomething not dreading what’s next but celebrating what’s now. For the last 30 days of my thirties, I’m aiming to do something that I’ve either never done or rarely do as a way to push myself and live in a more conscious, thoughtful way.

Yesterday, the first day of this, I started a blog. I get how brave that is, and while I feel the word hero is overused, I won’t argue against it being applicable here; after all, it’s not every day that a middle-class white American woman starts a blog to talk about herself.

But the thing about this project is that it turns out there’s a reason I do the same things all the time. Apparently, having no time or money, while also living in New Mexico, kind of limits one’s options in newness. But I’m not a quitter. Yes, I’ve quit almost everything I’ve ever committed to, but if you call that being a quitter, I think you need to reevaluate your quitter criteria. Unless you don’t want to, then that’s fine I totally get it.

While in-between meetings held on opposite sides of the city, I settled on today’s new task: take selfies. I don’t get selfies. Looking at images of myself is a deeply painful experience, one that is not ameliorated by sharing those images with dozens or hundreds of others. I don’t understand what drives someone to take a picture of themselves and think, you know–I bet a lot of people want to check this shit out. If you like selfies, that’s awesome and I actually envy you for being able to look at yourself without cueing a chorus of self-loathing. Anyway, I hate selfies so here are a bunch of selfies I took today:

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I took this in front of an air-conditioning unit in a stairway at work and some kid caught me doing it, so I told him I was “looking for reception” and he said, “um-hmmmm.”
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Does this count as a selfie? Was Lee Friedlander taking selfies all those years? Am I basically a great American photographer? Are we all? Can any selfie be said to be of the true self when none can be candid? Is a photograph less a window than a wall against which we project what we wish to be perceived as? Does this shadow make my butt look fat?
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That’s the top of my head in front of a skylight. 
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I am eating the fuck out of a burrito in my car parked in the library parking lot and listening to This American Life and a dude walking by picked a wedgie out of his butt so there was a moment where I thought, “Do I just keep eating this while watching a dude go to town on that situation?” And I did. 

DAY TWO: SELFIES! CHECK!

 

 

Blog in Which I Consider the Humanity of Joyce Summers

During each winter holiday break, I shift from high-powered education cyclone to apron-wearing cookie carybdis. I am the holiday cookie, the holiday cookie is me. I am propelled by some primeval force to fill my hands with nuts and fruit and offer them up to the white gods of flour, of sugar, of baking soda, salt. I spend the days in what feels like a marzipan haze but is in fact the crust of sugar over my eyes. I bake until I am worn, but then there are jam thumbprints, gingersnaps, peppermint bark, and the exhaustion is delicious and makes people love me.

This past break, I decided to begin rewatching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as a way to fill the time in-between rolling and baking and crying over charred batches. This is the fifth time I’ve undertaken watching the whole series, the first just over 10 years ago right as I was beginning grad school and just after the show had ended. I had resisted watching the show because of a deep-seated antipathy towards grown people making monster noises. I’m not buying it, Steve, I want to say. You fool no one. I had been uncharitable toward the genres of fantasy and sci-fi since I was a kid and searching for what to lose myself in. I’ve often gravitated toward books and media that I could picture myself in, create a part for me to play. I was a child and then an adult unsatisfied with the reality of my life, but my solution wasn’t to then enter into a radically different world but instead one pretty much like this but tweaked—a little thinness here, a scoop more love there.

But “Buffy” was different. A bit younger than most of the actors but a bit older than the parts they played, I could see myself inserted into this world of monsters and star-crossed love. The pull of “Buffy,” as has been well-documented, is that the vampires and witches and werewolves and vengeance demons are window dressing for a compelling tale about what it is to grow up. The conflicts stem from what it is to love and lose and learn to try again. For a show about monsters, it is deeply human.

But in watching it again over the past seven weeks, I’ve noticed something disturbing. I no longer identify with Buffy or even Willow, whose awkward smartness is much closer to who I am than the perky blonde slayer. I no longer get where Xander is coming from or even find Oz enigmatic and cool. Instead, the character with whom I most identify and want to know more about is Joyce, Buffy’s mom, because I am now old.

To be fair, Joyce, as portrayed by the stunning Kristine Sutherland, is not exactly old. The first season of “Buffy” was filmed in 1996, making the actress about 41, a year older than I am now. However, the costumers do a terrific job of dressing Joyce in the very best of mid-90s mom drag. She owns just so many turtlenecks. This, along with Sutherland’s dead-on mix of parental exasperation and concern, renders the character of Joyce as every inch a Mom. People passing her on the street see her and feel certain that she’s used her own saliva to clean chocolate off of a small human’s face. Joyce is a woman who carries extra tissue in the pockets of her tapestry vest.

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The mom hair is strong with this one.

To the end that Joyce must be believable as Buffy’s mom, the character is a raving success, but what I’m noticing this watch-through is that she is not much else. What do we get to know about Joyce? She is a divorced art gallery owner with a bottomless capacity for denial. She likes a flowy blouse and has bad luck with men. This has also been written about by others, but until now, it’s never bothered me. From a plotting point, the choices make some sense—she’s the only parent we really get to know and her role serves as both a support and a foil for the main character. But suddenly, that’s not enough for me. I want more for Joyce than one maniacal robot boyfriend and a passive aggressive book club friend who gets killed by zombies then becomes a zombie ultimately possessed by a Nigerian demon spirit before getting a shovel to the eyes courtesy of Buffy. Is that so wrong? As an aging woman increasingly invisible to much of the world, I want her to have more than that final date before her unacceptably ordinary death. I want her to be a woman and not just a mom.

Therefore I propose a supplementary series to flesh out and fulfill the promise of this loving and kind character. I propose “Joyce!” No, not the right title—close, but too ‘70s, ala Rhoda! or Maude!

Maybe “Re-Joyce!”

Nailed it.

And what would we see on “Re-Joyce!”? Well, what do you think she was doing all those weekends Buffy went to go see her dad in L.A. before the series decided that a slayer with daddy issues was more compelling than a slayer with a caring if geographically distant father? The way Joyce is depicted in the show (outside of the occasional Schnaaps drinking) would have you believe that Joyce spent those weekends using the bath salts she’d saved up special and drinking tea from giant mugs painted with flowers the colors of a Southwestern sunset. And while that doesn’t sound horrible to these aging ears, as a mother myself I know that when you get some time away from your child, you are going to use the chance to tear shit up. Maybe Joyce is an early noise music enthusiast and spends her weekends going to Iron, the Bronze’s scuzzy rival bar. She could do roller derby, work as a part-time private eye, haunt karaoke bars with her husky rendition of “The Monster Mash.” The possible antics from these scenarios are rich and endless.

But we also have the chance, in “Re-Joyce!” to see that this title heroine is also a badass at work, a legend among art dealers. Others try to top her, but the joke is that there can only be one. Speaking of jokes, turns out Joyce is a card, though she only uses that term in jest—she’s self-aware and wry, this one. She’s great at impressions and nurses a powerful hatred for Albert, the haberdasher next door who is always parking six inches into her space! What does she do about it? What doesn’t she do, is more like it. She is fucking unpredictable.

Since “Buffy” is told through that protagonist’s perspective, it makes sense that we don’t see what else fills her mom’s life. After all, how many of us as young people were capable of seeing our parents as fully formed people, full of lust and envy and heartbreaks? The Joyce we get in “Buffy” is the Joyce that Buffy saw—her mom. But I’m a mom and don’t want my story to be only of that relationship, so I don’t want it for Joyce, either.

Joss Whedon—since you’re probably not busy—give me a call. I’ve never written for t.v. so therefore have no evidence that I’m not awesome at it. Let’s talk, let’s plan. Let’s Rejoyce!