Thursday, November 24, 2011

Turkey Trot = Turkey Flop

I paid $35 to run a 5K Turkey Trot this morning. This particular race has been a tradition in our town for several years, and it draws a pretty large crowd of runners (at least 300, maybe 400). Furthermore, the course is as flat as it's going to get around here - so at least in theory, it's a good opportunity to set a 5K PR.
It's sponsored by a professional athletic center where a bunch of pro football players train.

In other words, all signs point to a well-organized race.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Issues with this 5K:
1. 15 tables, no signage. I didn't pre-register, so I registered this morning. It took me several minutes to figure out where the sign-up sheets were. Once I'd filled out the form, it took me another few minutes to figure out where to pay. The person who accepted my money said, "You can get your bib over there," and then pointed in a vague direction. Lather, rinse, repeat with the chip table.

2. No starting line. Most of us milled around in confusion, trying to deduce which direction we were setting off in. Furthermore, there were no suggestions for runner/walker placement. What's the point of having a big, USTF-certified, timed 5K if the people who want to get off to a fast start are blocked from doing so? I'm not insulting the walkers, but race directors should think about this.

3. No gun, no "Ready, set, go," nothing. Some people started running and the rest of us followed.

4. No clocks anywhere along the course. Even the smallest and newest race I did a couple of months ago had a clock at the finish line. I should have started the timer on my phone, but I assumed I didn't need to.

But wait. Isn't it really all about the joy of running? Isn't that the most important thing?

Um, no. If I want to experience the joy of running, I'll go to the local park and run for free. When I sign up for a race, I do it because it's a way to feed my self-competitive hunger. I love running, but I love running in large part because it's a way for me to set goals and strive to reach them.

I've been doing more speedwork lately, and I think I managed to keep up a decent pace during the race - so I have high hopes that I beat my last time. I'll have to wait until the results are posted online (which should be anytime between now and the end of the year).

/disgruntled post

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

He was kind of a jerk (and maybe that's okay)

I've been reading the Steve Jobs biography... and although I haven't finished it yet, the first few chapters portray him as a volatile, selfish, and demanding individual. I'm pretty sure that had I been one of the employees described in the book, Steve and I wouldn't have gotten along. He would have been too mean, and I would have been too sensitive.

The funny thing, though, is that although the book makes no attempt to sugarcoat who he was, it's actually inspiring me to change the way I interact with people. I'm a people-pleaser - not by nature, but by training. I learned early on to focus outward, away from myself, on the things other people wanted and felt. I wanted to make everyone happy. By nature? I am not the nicest person you will ever meet. I can be selfish, perfectionistic, driven to the point of tunnel vision, disgruntled, critical, and overly emotional. I try to hide all of that; my whole life, it's been drilled into me that these are all very negative qualities. So I try to squelch them, not just for the sake of everyone else, but also so that I won't hate myself.

But trying to please others while constantly stifling my own opinions and frustrations isn't working anymore. It just makes me feel bitter - especially now, given the situation with my mom and how busy I am with school and home life. I don't have time to sit around wondering how to make every other person around me happy or worrying that they won't like me. Screw it. Innately, I am all the things I listed above, but I am also a good, loyal, and caring person. I am a loving mother and a committed partner. I'm self-reflective. I'm generous with my time and material possessions. Expressing how I feel won't change that. I've decided to "let it all hang out" and see what happens. I'm not going to be intentionally rude - but I'm going to be direct.

I've tried it over the past week, and I'm surprised by how well it's worked. It's possible that I have caught a few people off guard by being more outspoken and opinionated than I've been in the past, but as far as I can tell, it hasn't hurt me or anyone else. In fact, it has been helpful to me because it's allowed me to state my own boundaries: "No, sorry, I can't do that because I just don't have time" or "If this happens again, I'm going to need more advance notice" or "That project seems more like busywork for the students than something of value. I think we should change it to make it less time-consuming and more meaningful for them." Maybe I'm going to come across as more negative or more demanding, but if so, so be it, because I also think it'll help me preserve my own integrity and build relationships that are based on complete and total honesty.

I'm starting to realize that the people I get along with the best aren't necessarily the nicest people, but rather the most honest people. More than anything, I appreciate knowing where they stand. There's comfort in knowing that they are looking me in the eye and saying everything, not placating me with a bunch of niceties and then talking about me behind my back.

Furthermore, I love what I do, just as Steve Jobs loved what he did. And I don't want "being nice" to stand in the way of doing what I love and being as good at it as I possibly can be. I don't want "being nice" to stand in the way of creativity and development of ideas.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stage III

I'm visiting my parents this weekend. I felt like I needed to see how my mom was doing, get some additional information about what she's dealing with, and hopefully bring her some cheer. (I say that last part with some chagrin as I am really not someone who brings cheer... Pollyanna I'm not. I guess what I mean is that I wanted to show her that I care and I'm in this with her.)

I was able to review the tumor pathology report, which in a nutshell indicates that she has Stage III colon cancer. That means she will need to have chemotherapy. I've read numerous reputable sources indicating that the latest chemo drugs for colon cancer are highly effective, and the side effects are relatively tolerable. There's no reason to not be optimistic.

She is incredibly energetic for someone who had major surgery less than two weeks ago and is facing such a tough diagnosis. It's impressive. She's walking around a lot, chatting with friends, getting her own food (she won't let us do much), taking her medications on schedule, and basically being her usual self. I do not see any self-pity or even much worry on her part. She's handling it all about as well as anyone possibly could.

I wish I could say that I am following suit with my own attitude and feelings, but inside I am wrecked. I went for what was supposed to be an hour-long run, and halfway through I stopped right in the middle of the road and started to cry. I'm trying to hide it, but... this is hard. And it seems really unfair and selfish of me to see this as so difficult and to get so upset when my mom is being so positive. It's not that I don't believe she'll get better - I do. The odds are well in her favor.

The thing is that you never know how you're going to react to this sort of situation. All this time I figured that if something were to happen, I'd be able to hold it together. I'm not. Not really. I mean, I think that on the outside, in my interactions with her, I am doing and saying the "right" things. But inside I'm torn up. There's an added complication to what is going on here, which is that our family isn't particularly close and we have a lot of unresolved issues. I have distanced myself from them in recent years. Many of their friends and my friends don't get it; they think I'm selfish. I have my reasons. Now this is happening, and while my feelings about my dysfunctional family haven't changed, I also have this built-in need to be there for my parents. It's confusing and disorienting, and I feel totally narcissistic for having all of these self-focused feelings when it's not about me.

I should be fine. I should be strong. I should be encouraging. I will be those things, as much as I can. But I don't always feel like I have it in me. If this is a marathon, I am not the person at the front, bravely maintaining race pace and thinking positive thoughts. I am the person jogging well behind schedule, the one puking in the bushes and begging to quit, the one who doesn't quit but who whines all the way to the finish line.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Seven miles, students, and Steve Jobs

Yesterday I ran seven miles, the farthest I've run in at least a year or two. My lungs felt good throughout; my legs got kind of rusty at the end. But I finished feeling more refreshed than tired. It helped that I was running outside. The weather was perfect - sunny, cool, breezy - and the falling/blowing leaves made it all the more invigorating. Today I kept it simple and followed up with a three-mile walk on the treadmill.

As I walked, I thought about my students. I've been teaching college students in some capacity for the better part of 10 years. When I started out, I was only a year or two older than the seniors. It didn't take much to intimidate me. I worried about whether they liked me, whether they thought I was lame, whether my classes were "fun" enough.

This is the first year where I look at my students and think, "They're so young." When I'm around them, I don't feel old, per se, but I see how I have changed in the last decade as an instructor. I feel more comfortable in the role, more capable. If they act out, I don't take it personally. I see their insecurities, their worries, and their frustrations. I see their creativity and their unique way of approaching problems. I think they are all incredibly smart and talented, though in different ways. And I really like each and every one of them. This semester I got lucky with my class: no-one whines (or if they do, they're smart enough to whine out of earshot of me), and they work hard enough.

I thought of them, and me, and life in general, when I read part of Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement address to Stanford graduates (I know he talks a lot about death here, but this quote is really about life): "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart... Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday morning

Saturday morning means...

...long, long runs for my husband (20 miles today).

...dark coffee with sugar and almond milk (often reheated a time or two in the microwave because I drink it so slowly)...

...a messy, messy family room, strewn with Legos and trains and books and balloons...

...sweatpants, sweatshirts, and warm socks...

...and me trying to relax, with varying degrees of success. It depends on the weekend. I always take Saturday off, but sometimes my mind continues to whirl even as I'm doing all of the things that supposedly constitute a lazy weekend.

I can tell my anxiety levels are higher than they were, say, a month ago. When I get anxious, I tend to fixate on things and become intensely self-critical. Right now, for instance, I can't seem to stop thinking about a big poster presentation I need to prepare in the next few weeks. Is there any point in sitting here for hours, visualizing where I might place various pictures on said poster? No, but I'm doing just that. I also can't stop thinking that maybe grad school was a big mistake, maybe I'm not smart enough, maybe my advisors have realized I'm an idiot, maybe I'll finish and graduate and nothing will come of it, job-wise. This is the first time in the entire year and a half that I've been in this program that I've had such strong self-doubts... and for seemingly no good direct reason. Thus, I can only assume that stress in my personal life is manifesting itself in my professional life. Emotions are getting distorted and displaced. At times like this I try to ignore what the critical voice in my head is saying. I remind myself that in all likelihood, it is wrong.

From an objective standpoint, I can see that yes, I am stressed out and overwhelmed, and perhaps I've been less patient with certain people - but in the past week I've finished every assignment that was due and attended every meeting that was scheduled. I've taught my class and written lessons. I've gotten up every morning and gone to school. It's true that I am distracted, and it's true that maybe I'm not powering along as I usually do, but I know that if I were an advisor, I would be understanding of that. I have to assume that my own advisors (who are aware that my mom was just diagnosed with cancer and is in the hospital recovering from surgery) can see where I'm coming from and aren't holding it against me.

Around my family, I've been tired. I often come home, eat dinner, and then lay in bed for a little while (a pre-bed nap, if you will). It's not ideal, but I need that time to myself. After a few minutes, I feel somewhat re-energized and can interact with my husband and son without being a complete zombie. Right now I am not being the best partner or mother. I am being a "good enough" partner and mother.

It's hard for a perfectionist to accept "good enough."

*     *
Yesterday morning, I got up at 5 a.m. and ran four miles at a 10:30- to 10-minute-per-mile pace. That's faster than what I've been running, and I felt good. Tomorrow I'm scheduled to run 7 miles at a comfortable pace. I'm glad for the running. I need it. It's distracting, it's comforting, it's predictable, and it's a challenge that I know I can actually meet. Running is solace.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I am drained. Finding out that someone you care about has cancer totally flips your world upside down. Everything looks and feels different.

If I were to give myself grades for my current performance at school, in helping keep the house in order, and with parenting, I'd award myself a solid C in every category. I'm not really failing, but by no means am I excelling. I'm just sort of floating along. Getting up every day, getting dressed, making lunch, going to school, and giving my kid as many hugs as he wants is pretty much all I can muster. Whatever I manage to accomplish outside of that is just a bonus. What I really want to do is stay in bed for a week. And I'm not even the one who's sick.

Maybe I don't look particularly sad, angry, or worried, but I feel all of those things, and they're manifesting themselves emotionally as well as physically.

I went to see my old therapist today because I needed to talk to someone who really knows me and my history. He told me my feelings are normal and that it isn't selfish to feel the way I do. We talked about my mom, my family, and the potential repercussions for the future. He reminded me that in a week or two, I will have adjusted to this "new normal" - kind of the way your body adjusts when you increase running mileage. After a while, it won't feel as taxing as it does now.

It was so good to talk to him. He listened. He pointed out the healthy, positive choices I've made and am making. He showed that he cares. But the session made me feel sad, too. I wish I had good friends - or just one good friend - to share these things with whenever I need to. I wish someone would call me up or email me and be like, "This sucks, and it's hard. How are you doing? Do you want to talk about it?" But for whatever reason, I haven't made good friends in my adult life, and I feel alone a lot (which definitely doesn't do much for depression or anxiety).

Mostly I'm sad and worried.

I've been doing well with running, though: 3 miles on Monday, six sets of 400 meters on Tuesday, and another 3 miles today. Tomorrow is a rest day, and then I'll run four miles on Friday.