Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fit and Fat

So. I've been running, for real, lately. The last two months I've been training for a 5k - not any particular race, and I am not sure I even want to RUN in a race persay, but just to give me some direction. I was inspired by a student of mine who has been training for a 1/2 marathon, and also by the fact that I have run, on and off (mostly off) for years, to no success, no improvement, no noticeable effect. This is because I would run to burn off steam after the fact - after work, after a hard day, not in any particular order or schedule, and not with any kind of plan. Now, I figured, if I follow a schedule, I can see gain and goals and work toward something.

And it's working. I started this with Becky before she moved, and have kept on doing it. The plan is called "from couch potato to 5k" and over nine weeks they take you through a schedule comprised of first walking more than running, then running more than walking, and finally, just running. Or jogging. Whatever. Moving at a heart-rate raising pace. And I'm doing that. I've been running 3x week for weeks now, not even sure how many, but a lot - two months, maybe? and today I ran for 20 minutes straight without stopping - about 2 miles.

2 miles. When I was at my "fittest" I couldn't even run a mile. My heart would pump too hard, my lungs would ache and my legs would turn to jelly. Now, the only thing that stops me is either boredom (meditation training has helped to deal with that) or sore calves (they are slower to develop than my heart and lungs, which are handling all of this just fine). I am estatic, slow to share the news, embarassed somehow that that is "all" I can run, that I had to work up to "that". And then, as I've been sharing, folks have been surprised: "I can't run for shit," "I could never do that," this from my skinny next door neighbor who is cute as a button and does yoga, daily.

The only thing is that I haven't lost any weight. That certainly wasn't my only goal, but I of course wanted it to happen - getting back to a size 12 would be a nice side benefit of not running out of breath (literally) in 5 minutes of activity. Instead, I've gained weight. There are other factors - meds, for instance - but other friends who have trained to run more than they were previously used to have told me that this isn't that odd, actually. The metabolism shifts.

Last night Amy and I went out to a cute bar for dinner and I felt very self-conscious, my size 16 awkward on a stool, perched to eat. It's because I am in Milwaukee, where I am *less* dressed up than in Madison, where I am often the person in the room with her outfit more together. Sigh. One step forward, two psychological steps back. I will persevere and keep running - no stopping that now, I need it for mental as well as physical health - but one little part of me, who occasionally rares up and gets angry about it, wants to know why. Why, after all this, can't I shed 20 pounds?

For now I will resign myself - no, wrong word - be ok with the fact that I may be feeling fat, but I am fit, for sure, moreso than ever in my life. Ever.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What I know/What I don't know

All week I've been considering how to do the topic (the title of this entry) I gave to my students. I've been thinking about grief, clearly, from my last entry, as I went to my hometown and tried to "settle" some feeling of haunting I've been having about it. In my own home, two hours from my original home town, I often feel echoes of the home I grew up in and wished I was there, instead, for instance. So I drove by, I went past the houses of old friends, some drifted away, some still friends, most lost in the forests of adolescence, either through force or accident. And yet, I felt the opposite of peace. I felt agony, confusion, and the rending of childhood from my arms, which, quite fantastically, had in some realm still been holding on, and holding on hard, to my parents, to childhood, to the past.

I was surprised that I was able to then go on to my nephew's birthday party and have a good time. Meet my brother's new girlfriend, with whom he is about to co-habitate and who just so happens to be a Medical Examiner (the person who medically determines whether someone's corpse died naturally or with incident), chat with Tyler's quite extroverted family and play Nerf football (of sorts) with him. It wasn't ignoring my pain - it was more what phenomenologists call "bracketing" - setting aside a whole set of perceptions in order to function in the now. As I drove out of town, across the bridges built only as I was an adolescent and only as I had need to use them - to leave town- I felt it all come back. I listened to Radiohead. I cried, not knowing why, and then, I called people, when the pain got too bad.

"The losses continue," birdfarm noted. Yes, yes they do. She was so helpful, really grounded me, not separating the loss or dismissing it, but not indulging it either, just helping me to see what *is*. I felt much better giving some name, though as of yet, and likely never, an end, to the pain.

Last night, after teaching my first Miksang class of the semester at Marquette, I met my brother Alex and his lovely girlfriend, Patty, out for dinner at Miss Katie's Diner near campus. I'd been there before once with a long complicated person of my past, and hadn't been back in over a decade. It was a great time - our waitress had real personality and the mashed potatoes had real potatoes. After we'd ordered (meatloaf for Patty and me, breakfast-for-dinner for Alex), and got our "first course" (diner style - bread and butter for Alex, cole slaw for me and iceberg lettuce salad for Patty) Alex looked at me for a moment, then said "So, you like cole slaw, huh?". I had just picked cabbage from our own garden a couple of days ago with full intention to make more at home - if I make it mayo-free, Dylan will even eat it! - and I nodded yes, though said that this certainly wasn't the best I had had.

"Dad always ordered cole slaw, you know." I stopped, spoon mid-air. No. No, I didn't know that. Or, as I was telling my students in class just an hour before, their faces skeptical to the idea, some PART of me saw that, again and again, dad ordering cole slaw at Schreiner's restaurant in Fond Du Lac, where we'd stop en route to the cabin, at Mr G's in Door County ("though I'm not sure they *had* cole slaw, I'm sure dad would have ordered it if they did" Alex admitted), anywhere he could get it. Some part of me saw it, though because he died when I was 12, I had no context for Cole Slaw (other than "adult ick", likely) so I forgot that I knew it.

I asked him if mom made it fresh at home (she was quite the gardener) or if he just ordered it in restaurants. "Just in restaurants, I think." I felt, though I am not proud of it, a slight vindication (that I make something fresh that my mother never made), alongside the pain of realizing I had forgotten something, some clue, some tiny but regular part about my dad in an never-ending series of losses, and some pleasure that somehow part of me had remembered and too, always orders Slaw.

Patty looked surprised, or curious. "There are lots of different takes we all have on our parents," I explained and she confirmed the age differences between me and Alex (5) then Alex and David (4) making almost 10 years span. "No wonder," she said and I responded "Yeah, I was 12 and David was 21 or 2 (there are a few months in there when he is 10 years older than me) when dad died."

"What are some other examples?" she asked, her face soft and curious.
"For one," Alex said, a slight smile on his face, "We remember the day of his death differently."
(We KNOW it differently, I might add here)
"Yep. The timeline, even certain facts, are lost in the melee. We experienced it differently, and trauma changes time."
"Death slows time." Alex said, bluntly, and I nodded. It's true. And also speeds it up.

Dinner came and we moved on to other topics - things Patty knew for instance, cleanly unrelated to death - the corrupt and messy lineage of Detroit mayors ("She grew up close to 8 mile," as Alex likes to put it), and, more generally, how hard it is to be "clean" in a context where everything has been corrupt for decades, not just in Detroit, but in all politics and business.

I am still haunted by the fact that my father loved cole slaw, and so do I. Part of me wants to hold a conference, and real quick like before we forget anything more, before time steals away all that we have already lost, write down EVERYTHING WE ALL KNOW or think we know about these two people, now dead for so long. Bring your memories bad and good, bring what you think are facts and fill the holes. But the holes will be empty no matter how much I know, and I feel a strange peace with that. I smile now thinking of the cole slaw. What a treat to learn something I already knew, as if it is for the first time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Vision

I crawl down the roots of a tree, following an intuition that something awaits me. Once under the roots, there is a river which leads from its underground branches, starting smaller and leading to the sea.  I straddle it, a giant, though the river itself is not so small, so I realize I am out of proportion, that it is real, not a trickle, after all. I put one foot on the right bank, then the other on the left, delicate, not tromping, yet clearly unable to lay my body down and bathe. It is only when I see the ferryman that I realize the river I am straddling is the classic Styx. I stumble through my pockets for change, but I have none, yet he never asks anything of me, him being smaller than my pinky toe, it's not like he could really demand anything of a giant like me, bigger than death and caught in-between.

As the Styx empties into the sea, I seem to shrink, and flow with all the corpses floating down her gullet and into the great belly of human experience.  Now I am not above death, I am a part of her flow and suddenly I feel the sorrow of myself and all other humans who have lost or are lost. It is a relief, not to feel I have cheated death somehow, but can feel it like the others do. 

We pass through a drain, the sea being sucked yet underground again, below the ground of the underground, and there we all become pellets which nurture the earth.  I see nothing of myself again or anyone else, all egos dissolve, all desires, and the last sense I have before I wake is of utter peace, as I fertilize the roots of an oak tree and move upwards inside its life, beginning again.

(This came to me lying on the acupuncture table - as birdfarm and her partner call "an expensive nap" - later I found out the sound I thought was drumming as I stumbled into a semi-conscious "journeying" state was actually their washer and dryer! I had just been back in my home town the day before, death on my mind, thinking about lost childhood and my parents, both dead and never coming back. It was a rough trip, and this was a healing journey which gave me back some sense of perspective, without any conscious mind at work. Yay!)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Everything is coming up Miriam"


A few days ago, I got emails confirming the following two good pieces of news:
1. Justin Nolan and I got a show at the Overture for fall of 09 entitled Known and Unknown
(Photography show with my dumpster abstracts and his Tilt Shift lens work)
2. Bridget Birdsall and I got accepted at Edenfred as day fellows - meaning we have free retreat space every Monday of September and October to write there. Amazing place.

I said to Dylan "sure, everything is coming up me, this is good news, but I just wish someone would publish my freaking poetry chapbook so I can move on already!"

The next day I get my third good piece of news:
3. Finishing Line Press will publish my poetry chapbook! Woo hoo! Finally!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Your voice is so loud I cannot hear what you are saying

In London, I read a review of Jeanette Winterson's new book, The Stone Gods. The hardcover just came out stateside in April of this year, but it was published last year in Britain, so I got the paperback, now as old as the hardback here, in Camden Town, at Waterstone's, I am a bit ashamed to admit. It had, in fact, just moved off the 2-for-1 shelf, but I was so happy to hold her in hand that I paid full price gladly.

For a long time I have hoarded Winterson's oeuvre. I often waited, even when I was a book buyer for a bookstore and knew full well when her next tome would arrive, even often receiving it free from the publisher in hardback, until the paperback came out, as a way to delay gratification (and you can take that as literally or metaphorically as you'd like).

But the truth is, I must finally admit, I feel her writing has worn out. I think she actually believes this, too, for years ago, she swore she would do the Greek Gods series (her contribution was on Atlas) and then end. That's it. Finito. Not another novel or short story. She did a kids book (Tanglewreck) and then that really appeared to be it. I even stopped looking for her books on the shelves at new stores. But here it is. Another novel. And I just kind of think it doesn't work.

Why? Winterson's writing consists mostly of voice: language use, sense of character(s) and emotional relationship. She's highly lyrical, which I have always and still do love. But this time around, like in Powerbook (the second to last before the Atlas book and of a similar plot bend to Stone Gods) she is trying too much to build a world, a story, with literal value as well as emotional. The Passion, Written on the Body and Lighthousekeeping, three of her best, are all based on more of an emotive landscape than a political or world-sized plot. She did a great job with the Atlas myth because it's a story we already know. In other words, Winterson is a fantastic show-er and a weak teller. So when she's got a story to *tell*, which she does here in Stone Gods, at least to set the stage to do the showing, it's a rough haul for her.

And for me. I turn to certain authors when I feel down, as I have since returning from Britain, in order to inspire and revive me. Ondaatje, Winterson, Atwood and Toni Morrison are the perennials, though also often Karen Tei Yamashita, Italo Calvino and Jamaica Kincaid (not to mention Edwidge Danticat - this middle range list could go on and on!) often do the trick. Those first four authors - I own everything they have ever written, I read their books again and again, and I read them when I desperately need inspiration for life and/or writing, which often go wonkers together, at the same time or in quick succession. So this is why I feel a bit, well, miffed, this time. What the heck? Of course I want her to try new things. Of course I think she shouldn't just sing the same song each time. And yet...

Some of the feeling comes from disappointment - that I hoped a book would coddle me and it isn't doing the trick. Some of it comes from a realization awhile back that literature doesn't do the same escape hatch trick it used to - because *I* can't "get away" like I used to, now that I realize it won't, in the long run, do any good. But finally, part is outright fear. Stone Gods tells a story vaguely familiar to that of my novel, Orphano. And here I encounter a problem I didn't use to have, back when I loved novels but didn't write them - that I can see myself in her, see the struggle to write something plot-driven when you are a lyrical writer, and I fear I will fail. I love the language of my novel and I think it is very, very good. Really. But I am not so sure about conflict, not so sure about narrative drive or plot. And I know, I have right in front of me, a sample of when those feel contrived, written by one of my favorite authors. Sigh.

Guess it's better to hear it from her than anyone else, eh?