Tuesday, September 29, 2009

They Say Running Is Good for You

I hate running. I don’t hate it in the way that you hate your least favorite food, or your least favorite person. Instead, I hate running the way you hate things that you know are good for you, like communicating and eating your vegetables. They’re the things that you bring yourself to do with more than a little chiding from your conscience – who sounds strangely like a 1950’s housewife of a mother – that eventually make you feel better about who you are and where you sit in the world.
It’s the second week of half-marathon training. This is the second time I’ve trained for a half-marathon this year; the first time I got to within two weeks of the race and had to admit defeat. My muscles didn’t give out on me, but my organs did. I picked up something in Mexico that made it impossible for me to absorb nutrients, and I wasn’t doing myself any favors by trying to keep exercising. Instead, my running got slower and slower, until I couldn’t even run four miles anymore when I should have been running 12.
I would much rather open my eyes in the morning, look at the clock, then go back to sleep. I would much rather decide to eat cake all day long then be able to say conversationally, “I don’t know why, but no matter what I eat I can’t manage to gain weight.” I would much rather not have a mental catalogue of the fat content of food that I refer to when I look at a menu. I would much rather be able to fly, too.
Instead, I get up in the morning, stick my contacts into eyes still blurry with sleep, sigh, and drag myself into running clothes. I take my time messing around with my iPod, finding the playlist I want, then the stopwatch application. I take another sip of water, then give into the 50’s housewife in my head, “Vegetables and exercise are good for us,” she says, her hands on her hips over her apron. My conscience wears pearl earrings and lipstick, even though I hate the taste of lipstick and only wear earrings at weddings. I imagine her standing at the door as I stumble sleepily outside, wagging her finger at me in her cute little heels. “You’ll feel better after this, I promise!”
I am not a great runner. There’s nothing efficient or awe-inspiring about my running. I am incapable of a lot of speed or any amount of grace. Usually my side hurts, or my IT band, or my feet begin to blister. I doubt there’s anyone who has ever passed me on the road and thought to themselves, “Wow, that’s so great. I should start running.” Instead, their thoughts are probably of whether to come back later and see if I’ve expired on the side of the road.
When I finally get out there and get going, though, some part of me is more than glad that I’m there. That part of me separates from my fumbling body and wanders somewhere else. It helps me forget that I’m running, and reminds me that I’m outside, that the air smells like pine and that sun is out, because where I live it always smells of pine and the sun nearly always shines. Even when I get tired and am puffing away uphill, this part of my mind is thinking, “Wow, isn’t this GREAT?” like that one really annoying friend who always sees the bright side when all you want is for them to admit that their meal was burnt or that the dog shit they stepped in is especially stinky. It’s probably little miss housewife that has come along with me, keeping me from stopping half a mile in and turning around to go home.
When I finish my stint, I do feel better. I have more energy, I can focus better, and I always get more done. I find it amazing that I can feel so much better after exercise yet still have to force myself to do it. I wish it wasn’t this way. When I’m feeling optimistic, I am simply grateful that I have a conscience that is standing next to the bed when I wake up, one eyebrow raised, saying, “Well? What’s your excuse today?”
When I’m not feeling optimistic, I point out that her lipstick is smeared and go back to sleep.

Love and running kisses

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Bookstore Gatekeepers

I love bookstores. The very smell of them makes me happy. I walk into one, breathe deeply, and look for the longest aisle to lose myself in. I love the hush that comes over people as they enter a bookstore; as if it’s a library, as if it’s a monastery where you can lose yourself and meditate for awhile on the meaning of life. Well, either you can meditate on it or you can meditate on what others have decided is the meaning of life. There are millions of printed words, and there are so many of them, under so many different categories and titles, that I can spend hours wandering step by step over the carpeted floors, covering next to no ground and reading the backs of so many books that my vision starts to swim before I’m done.
At least, that’s how my bookstore experiences used to be. Now, when I enter a bookstore, I see hundreds, perhaps thousands of books that are not mine. These are authors that defied the odds, defied the disbelief of their friends and family, and managed to get an agent or a publisher to read their work and think it was worth putting in a bookstore. Each of the books I pick up is a challenge to my ego: I could so write something better than this, or oh my goodness, I am not worthy. Imagine if you were a budding musician who walked into a store to buy a new guitar and Santana was standing there twanging away on the very guitar you wanted to hold. When you started to back away, you realized that all the customers in that music store were big names in the industry, and suddenly you felt like a fool even calling yourself a musician. Heck, even the music that you consider dumb and uninteresting is still represented, and your clumsy attempts at harmony are not.
I go back and forth on this. A part of me despairs at the number of titles, authors, very human beings that are in front of me in the publishing line. Even if you don’t consider those people, there are millions of books already out there – why would someone want to read mine that hasn’t yet been published yet?
However, another part of me takes in these bookstores with a glass-half-full optimism. If this fucktard of an author was published, why shouldn’t I be? Sometimes I pick up books, read the back, read the first page and know, without a doubt, that I can entertain better than this person. Maybe not everyone, but what I have to say is much more interesting to the people that I want to interest. That’s the beauty of reading – there’s something out there for everyone. If you have an interest, there’s a book that will address it, and not just one, many! My book, my point of view, while similar to many others out there, is still my intellectual property. No one else can come up with exactly what I can, and in that I have an advantage. Hell, everyone has an advantage, but I have the additional advantage of having written my book already – the biggest step. I have made it past the point of saying, “I always wanted to write a book.” Write book? Check. Big, mother-fucking CHECK. Now comes the Olympic pole vault through the gatekeepers. They can be mean, ugly creatures, but there’s a good reason for them to be there. They’re there so that bookstores, the places I hold sacred, despite my jealousy, can remain sacrosanct. The gatekeepers are there to ensure that you can walk into one and know that you will find good writing, an interesting subject, and, for the most part, a plot that will stand up to scrutiny and characters who will not blink after they’re supposed to be dead. Yes, I am sitting here jobless because of the gatekeepers, but I consider their role as important as the people who write aptitude tests for any life-threatening job. Because really, who wants a nurse who didn’t pass her boards, or an architect who doesn’t know how to design a building that will stand? No one. Would bookstores be the same places if just anyone were allowed to sell their work there? No. Which will make it even sweeter when I can walk into one and find my book sitting on one of its shelves, full of words and smelling sweetly of success.

Love and bookstore kisses