Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why Perfectionism Blows

The most miserable people on the planet must be perfectionists.We work so hard for something that is by nature impossible to achieve and in doing so are never able to enjoy any of our accomplishments. Because the marker for our goals is always moving, always inching forward moments before we reach it. 

It's the horse that keeps chasing the carrot on the end of a stick.
The horse never gets the carrot. I never get the carrot. No one ever gets the carrot. 

We run ourselves to exhaustion, trying to snatch it. 

But, really... why do I want that dumbass carrot anyway? I guess I never stopped to think about it. And now that I am, it's really simple. The fact is that I want it because somewhere along the line I decided that she who gets the carrot is "good enough" (i.e. deserving of love). And there's nothing I want more in the world than to be good enough. Good enough for myself, for my lover, for my parents, for my society,  and maybe even for history. It depends on how far I take it. 

California is full of perfectionists--people who look amazing on paper, who have great jobs, great cars, great looks, great educations, great spouses. They're just so beautiful to look at. I mean, really they are! So, why is everyone so unhappy? Why is everyone on antidepressants, or spending the last half of their day trying to forget the first half of it?

Maybe it's this idea that we have to present a perfect image to the world, that there is something so inherently wrong with us that we must hide it  in the console of our BMW's, underneath our cosmetically enhanced facades, and buried deep under one failed relationship after another. It's all a charade, and at the end of the day, we still have to look at ourselves in the mirror, and know deep down who we really are. We don't wake up or go to sleep as the avatar that we present to the world. When we are alone, we don't have others to reflect back to us the image of ourselves that we put forward to the world. When we have moments of stillness, of quiet, of solitude, and we remove ourselves from the worlds expectations, thats when we have to face our true selves, and the facts about who we are being. 

So, we keep ourselves distracted…through television, through the internet, through shopping, through drama. We wrap ourselves up in the stories others and ourselves, either fictional or real, that perpetuate the myth of our masks. 

Advertising agencies and media have done a really good job completely saturating the market with this dogma, and now people can brand and sell themselves to their friends on social media. We are all basically advertising how beautiful, how cool, how talented, how interesting, or how right we are. We are building a case for ourselves on-line that we are "good enough".

But it doesn't matter. We can fool the rest of the world about who we are being, but we can't fool ourselves. 

This used to eat me alive! Seriously, the lengths that I have gone to and continue to go to in order to present the perfect picture to the world....It has literally nearly killed me, and it took seeing that I would have to choose between my perfectionism and my survival in order to change. And of course, I knew that before anything else, I had to change my thinking. 

I started looking at myself with a microscope. Not externally, but internally. I started looking for irrational thoughts, unhealthy perceptions, and false beliefs that I held about myself and the world that were keeping me from both knowing myself and knowing happiness.

Here is the conclusion I have come to after peeling off a few layers of the onion.

Perfectionism is boring. And stressful. And more than that, I think most people innately sense that people who are seemingly picture perfect 24/7 are doing it to cover a deep-seated darkness or insecurity. 

I have a friend who is a really good lawyer. He spends most of his time analyzing human behavior, decoding it and searching for motivations. He tells me that he doesn't trust anyone without flaws, because you know they are hiding something truly grotesque. 

So, instead of trying to hide my own flaws, I've been practicing the art of laughing at myself. Laughing at all my weird quirks and idiosyncrasies that drive the people around me crazy, at my sometimes self-destructive habits, and at my moments of embarrassment, when I make an ass out of myself, or when I don't have all the answers. I even have started to poke fun at what I perceive as a shortcomings. At risk of sounding like I have all the answers, I will venture to say that I've had shift in consciousness. And the shift says: these things don't say anything except that I am more human than I thought. And that's okay. 

And luckily, I'm not alone. There are a lot of us. 

Don't get me wrong. A lot of the time our shortcomings need to be recognized. We should be more honest, more kind, more generous. We should have more integrity. We should be healthier, and more disciplined. But the thing is, we don't need to make ourselves wrong for being the way we are. It's good to look at ways to improve, but once we make ourselves wrong for being a certain way, our first impulse is to cover it up, to hide it from the world, to conceal it under layer upon layer of paint. As long as its covered up, we are able to continue throughout our day harboring our secret. But in the darkness, this ugliness only grows, as we feed it more energy…and it takes a lot of energy it to keep up appearances. So much energy that you might feel that you don't have a moment to actually be, instead of constantly projecting who you think you should be. 

I'm pretty sure thats why in Alcholics Anonymous, the first thing they ask you to do is to admit to the whole room that you have a problem. You resist it, and you're scared, and then you stand up, and you say it, and you realize that you are safe. Because you are in a room full of people exactly like you. 

And the thing is, the planet if full of people who are exactly like you. We all experience the same basic desire--to be loved, to be secure, to be happy. What separates us is the ways we go about getting these things. And it seems to me that the main problem we face as humans is a lot of misdirection. 

Are there just so many people on the planet that we feel that we must divide ourselves into groups, draw lines in the sand, and jump on either side of it? 

I understand that a lot of you probably don't relate to any of this. You are secure in every aspect of who you are, and who you've become. You are light as a feather, and happy with the decisions that you've made in your life, and you go to bed every night with a sense that you have spent another day satisfying your life's purpose. For the rest of us, for those of us feel that we are still searching for it, maybe it's time to take a look inward. To lift the painted veil of our assumed identities and peer at the trials and joys of our life in the light of truth, and give others the opportunity to do it too by withholding our judgement and being gentle with each other. 

And….because I feel like I should definitely be practicing what I preach, I'm starting a video diary starting on Tuesday, so you can watch my own social experiment-- of hopefully showing a conscious effort of transformation. Tuesday happens to also mark exactly 101 days from when I'll be leaving to run across the country. When I originally decided to run across the United States, the idea was to push myself-- physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

One of my favorite proverbs is, "The best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining." And because I know the battle between my true self and my own insecurities, shortcomings, and flaws will be my hardest-won, I figure I should tackle that on-line, and in doing so inspire and encourage others to start to push themselves in the same way.

And instead of being embarrassed about who I am, or trying to present a perfect picture to the world, a branded image of who I am instead who I really am, I'm going to keep it real. And hopefully, when I say my truth out loud,  the power that my secrets have will vanish, and it will give me the opportunity to break my invalid ways of thinking down and seeing them for what they are. And then all of a sudden, through the habit of catching myself in, say, judgment of another, or losing my keys for the third time in one day, or deliberately distancing myself from others -- it's no longer a reflection about who I am as a person. It just means I have room for improvement. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting Down to the Very Last Feather

In the center of a small, bright room, there is a bed. It is heaping with overstuffed pillows. They burst at the seams with delicate, white feathers. This is the room I am born into, and this is where I learn to play.

I have an extraordinary time. I jump on the bed, hurling the pillows above my head, until the feathers break free and fly into the air. Around me, I conjure brilliant hurricanes and tornados, and I am the creator of my Universe. I sculpt feather clouds and then lay back on the bed and write their legacies. I envision sparkling cities, and pristine forests. I witness valiant men on horseback who are galloping towards noble deeds.

One day, the door opens to my little room and I realize that there is a world outside. I become self conscious of what I am doing. I peer outside, but it makes no sense when compared with the beauty that I experience in my sacred haven. Some of the feathers fly out in gusts of wind, and then suddenly, someone is in the doorway. A dark figure casts the first shadow to ever enter that space of light.

The shadow begins to yell, "What are you doing? Don't you know that pillows are for sleeping, and not for dreaming? Go to sleep or I will take away all your pillows, and then you will not have anything. You will be stuck in this room with no possessions, and nothing to do, and you will be powerless. When you've put all these feathers away, then I will set you free from this room. Out there is the real world. Out there is real freedom."

Confused and suddenly aware of my myself as something painfully different than this shadow, I become frantic. I look at the at the feathers that have settled on the ground, and they are no longer full of magic and possibility. I am ashamed of them.

They have transformed into a senseless mess.

I spend hours, days, years, painstakingly putting the millions of feathers back into their pillow cases. I become obsessed with this task. I equate the absence of feathers with stability and happiness. The dark figure starts coming to the door at all hours of the day and night, offering me encouragement for my diligence. I am constantly looking at the door, waiting for him to arrive. I begin to look forward to his praise, but soon the encouragement turns into reprimands. And so, I work harder. The feathers that once formed moss-covered mountains and filled the oceans with electric jellyfish become symbols of my oppression.

I continue working furiously, but the supply of feathers seems inexhaustible. There are just too many. I work my fingers to the bone pushing the feathers into piles, stuffing them into bags, and picking them out of the mattress, but they never completely disappear. The shadowy, dark figure is now always hovering in the corner of the room, mumbling under his breath. Eventually I am unable to tell the difference between his voice and my own thoughts. He tells me that I'll never leave the room, that it's pointless, that I might as well give up. I persevere, and I work harder. I want to be happy, and I want security. I want the security that is out there, in the real world.

I understand what it means to be tired. I become so tired that for the first time in my life, my eyelids grow heavy. When I fall sleep, I dream of feathers. I remember where I've been, the worlds that I've created, the love that I've known. I dream of a swirling white reality where ballerinas dance on cliff edges, suspended in time. I start to look forward to sleep. But slowly, as the years go by, the feathers that were once my whole existence start to disappear even from my dreams. I start to only dream of the world that I have seen the shadowy figure emerge from. I tell myself that once I finally succeed, he will disappear and I will be safe and comfortable.

Then one day, I get down to the very last feather.

The moment of my success has arrived! I am overjoyed. I grip the end of the feather between my calloused fingertips while the dark figure encourages me to put it in it's place. I hold it for a very long time, and I stare at it unwaveringly. I place it in front of my lips and blow, watching each tiny hair tremble against my exhalations.

In that feather, I see infinite Universes. Silver elephants are ladened with the unbearable lightness of woven bags that erupt and spill over with magnolias and lotuses. They stampede through steamy jungles and jut their gleaming ivory through blankets of fog, leaving trails of blossoming white in their wake. A slender woman in a tattered linen dress pulls back her wild hair and walks crookedly up a windy beach. The sand is sugar and the choppy water is a thousand shattered chards of mirror reflecting the face of the sun.

The dark figure opens the door a crack, and beckons me to see my future. He allows me to glimpse the skyline of a towering city that shivers in the opal light of the moon. In this terribly soft storm, I think of the room, the door, the shadowy figure, and the world beyond. I think of all that I have seen, and of what lays ahead.

I look back down at the feather, and I know what I will do.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Odysseus Talked Sh*t Too

When I started this project nearly a year ago, it was shortly after I read Homer's "The Odyssey" for about the 50th time, and I was little obsessed with the idea of the hero's quest.

really wanted one.

I don't know what exactly this says about me, but the idea of battling both man and beast, being lost at sea, and being tossed from one adventure to the next by the whims of mischievous and vengeful Gods is one that inspires me.

The parts of Odysseus's story that I love the most are when he acts so damn human. Homer calls him by all sorts of different name throughout the book-- god-like odysseus, the man of twists and turns, the master of many exploits. But I love Odysseus the most not when he is conquering troy, or blinding the cyclops, or slaying six-headed snake monsters. I love him when he is acting like a total ass. 

Like when he narrowly escapes being captured and killed by the freshly blinded Cyclops, and is pulling the boat away from the shore, sneaking away without revealing his identity, but he just can't help himself. It's too easy. Odysseus gloats at his own cleverness and yells, "Haha, you dumb monster! If anyone ever asks you who messed you up so bad, you tell them that it was Odysseus, from the line of Zeus!" Basically like a serial killer leaving his calling card on the scene. Except that Odysseus, being from time to time exceptionally stupid, forgot to consider that the Cyclops was the son of a vengeful Sea God, and how that might not be the best person to piss off when you're leaving on a cruise. 

Come on, it's hilarious. I do that kind of stuff all the time. You know, poke the bear. 

And so when Odysseus does things that are prideful, and selfish-- when he lets his ego get in the way of getting back to Ithica, I can really relate. It reminds me that both ancient and modern day heroes are very human. You can surround a man with luxurious things, and dress him fancy clothes, call him a King, or a president, or a millionaire, or a movie star, and all of a sudden he will have this aura of importance around him that wasn't there before.

Guess what. 

It's not real. 

In the last six months, I've started pushing myself to be more understanding, more forgiving. When I stopped indulging gratuitously in catty or judgmental talk about others, the thoughts themselves started disappearing. If I've been wronged, I imagine me at my worst do something similar (which usually isn't a stretch of the imagination) and I think about all the insecurity and bewilderment and pain I go through every time I inflict pain on someone else. Or if I'm just mentally pigeon-holing someone, I imagine the times that I've excitedly tried to look or come off a certain way, and I remember sinking feeling I got when I realized that I had failed. When you put yourself in another's shoes like that, talking shit isn't so fun any more. 

I really challenge you to try this at home, kids. It's not easy, but it's awesome. You'll learn a lot about yourself and about the people around you. Maybe you will realize that some of your relationships will grow and others will diminish. You might run out of things to say quickly when you aren't bagging on other people or indulging in drama. Maybe you'll have similar results to me, and nearly every time you think a judgmental thing about anyone, it won't be something to laugh at. You'll just feel kind of sheepish. You'll laugh at your childishness. You'll start to immediately ask yourself, "Why am I separating myself from this person?" And maybe you will have a really hard time disliking anyone, no matter how they treat you. 

I'm lucky enough to have a few close friends who also refuse to engage in negative talk. Being very chatty and working as a cocktail waitress makes it hard to avoid gossip. Talking about other people is how most people (especially waiters/waitresses) fill most the hours of their day, and I, too, have gotten really good at it. I used to be downright mean. I mean, really mean. I used to write down gossip and pass it back and forth in a notebook with my friends during Jr. High. I used to write sonnets about how offensive people's outfits were. 

The thing is, when I stopped wanting to engage in negative talk, all the negative self-talk in my head started to quiet down too. I started liking everyone more, and seeing the best in them. I started liking myself. I stopped looking at myself so critically, and beating myself up when I didn't do everything perfect. I stopped worry what other people thought. And then it all crashed in on my head at once: that any difference between me and anyone else is all in my head. We are all from the same creator/explosion/alien implantation (call it whatever you want, we all came from the same place), and no one has more of a right to be here and to be happy than anyone else. 
It's too bad that the misconception that some people are more or less deserving than others isn't something that our parents try to beat out of us when we are little kids. Imagine if, as a toddler, you were taught that believing people were somehow essentially different from you was actually an immature way of being.  Maybe it's something that all 7-year olds should know. Maybe we need to learn this lesson on the same day we learn to share our toys. Can you imagine how different our world we be?

I don't want it to seem that by writing this that I have transcended being a snotty brat, because I haven't. I still catch myself thinking unkind things, or thinking of myself as more deserving than another person. But I'm trying, and it's getting easier every day. I try to be gentle with myself and those around me, and to remind myself that Odysseus was a pompous ass too, and he made it back to Greece. So maybe, just maybe, if I don't let my head get too big, I'll find my way to New York.

(here's my shameless self-promotion. please help me get there

Monday, October 7, 2013

(DNF) Did Not Finish- First 100 mile race attempt

I am laying on my stomach in my room at a Super 8 motel, drinking hot chocolate, and feeling down. Outside, temperatures are in the low thirties and snow dusts the pine trees and mountains. It is a picture-perfect scene in West Yellowstone, Montana. It is the day after my very first attempt at running a 100 mile ultra-marathon, and I am gorging myself on humble pie.

To be honest, I went into the race not knowing if I would be able to finish. I think there's probably nothing more boring than another blog about ill-fitting shoes written by a disgruntled runner, so I'll spare you the long version of the story. 

The short version: I made the very rookie mistake of switching to a new brand of shoes just weeks before my race. 
The Outcome: Arriving at the starting line of a 100-mile race with two already-swollen toes, and the sinking feeling that perhaps I'd bitten off more than I could chew. I'd compartmentalized the feeling in order to get myself to the starting line, relying entirely on an act of God to magically heal my purple toes at the last minute. 
The Lesson: Don't let optimism cross the line from helpful to hurtful. Just because you get lucky sometimes, doesn't mean that unicorns are going to visit you in the middle of the night and leave new shiny feet under your pillow.

The Backstory:  The days leading up to the race, I loaded up on carbs and protein. I made sure I was super hydrated, and that I got enough rest. I was very aware of everything that I was putting into my body. I wanted to give it exactly what it needed, so I didn't eat anything that I didn't consider perfect fuel for my body. The months leading up to the raise I trained hard, and I trained smart. I arrived in town with enough time to rest and get ready for race day. I met my coach Lisa, which was brief but exciting. I met some of the other runners who I have been reading about and looking up to for years. I was excited about racing and about challenging myself. But in the back of my mind, the gnawing suspicion that my feet were going to cause me major problems was starting to develop as a full-blown fear. 

When I put my shoes on at 4:30 am, and headed out the the finish line, I was painfully aware that the race would be extremely difficult. From the first steps of the race, I pretty much knew I was in for an extremely arduous fight. 

I started meditating immediately. When experiencing pain during a run (not from an injury, just from soreness/fatigue), I am usually able to manage it through breathing and meditation. This is usually how I do it. 
1) I focus on the feeling of pain completely. I try to feel every uncomfortable sensation fully and observe the feeling casually, without judging it as bad. 
2) Then, I put parameters around the pain, and keep it from growing to be a bigger part of my awareness. 
3)So then I'll switch back from focusing my attention on the pain, and then focusing on the nature that is surrounding me. I'll continue to do this switching of attention until the location of the pain is easy to find in my awareness, and it is separate from what I am experiencing externally (the road I'm running on, the runners next to me, the path that lays ahead).
4) Then, I focus on the pain more intensely, trying to make the parameters smaller and smaller. I then take the pain, and put it in a small black box that I visualize, lock the box, and refuse to let it out. When I begin to feel the pain overtaking the larger part of my awareness, I imagine the black box, making sure that it is staying inside of the containment area, and isn't creeping into my external awareness. 

This usually works. I didn't read any books about pain management techniques, I just kind of made this up myself. I don't know if it will work for other people, but it works swimmingly for me. 

But then again, I've never really employed this technique for use with anything but the soreness and fatigue associated with running long distance. By mile 8, I felt like my both my big toe nails had ripped completely off, and I was afraid to look at them because I felt that it would dissuade me from finishing the race. So I kept running, despite the steadily increasing pain and discomfort. Between mile 48-49, the pain was so terrible in my feet that I could barely walk, and I spent the last 45 minutes crying as I walked down the road, realizing that I wouldn't be able to finish the race.

And so my first ultra-marathon attempt resulted in a failure. More than anything, I'm embarrassed. And I am embarrassed that I'm embarrassed. 

I didn't finish a race. That it a first for me. And, my coach was there to witness it. She didn't actually see me drop out, since she was busy facilitating the entire race, which was being run by some of the biggest names in ultra-running. The fact that she wasn't there to see my defeat almost makes it worse. I just dropped off. I would have rather had her there, maybe to convince me to keep going, or to give me the okay to eliminate myself. In the end, I guess I didn't need anyone's okay at all, however I wonder if someone telling me that the kind of pain I was experiencing was a normal part of the sport would have pushed me to go farther. I pushed myself as far as I could go, and then I stopped. In the end, I was able to run fifty miles on two swollen, black toes. The amount of physical and mental focus it took to complete that was legendary. But it wasn't enough. 

It doesn't matter that it was my first ultra, or that my shoes screwed up my feet just weeks before the race, or that I did everything else I could to prepare. It doesn't matter about the 7,000 ft elevation difference, or the fact that I'd never experienced weather so cold in my entire life. The outcome is the same: I didn't finish. What can I learn from this? Well, there is the obvious answer, which is also the easy answer; I have to take better care of my feet. The harder answer, the one that I don't want to think about? There is no faking long distance running. It is not something that you can do with style, not something you can pull off at the last minute, not something you can power through. Running a one hundred mile race takes long, intense mental and physical training. You have to constantly be pushing yourself past your limitations. 

Not only that, but I have to recognize the fact that I'm a rookie. Unlike the legends that were present at the race in West Yellowstone this weekend (Pam Reed, for one), I'm new to this. I'm green. I'm not Andre the giant showing up to an amateur weight-lifting competition, about to be discovered for my innate talents and a perfect genetic make-up for the task at hand.

Here's the truth, which will make me sound very arrogant at first. People have told me throughout my life that it seems like everything comes easy to me. I like the sound of that, it makes me sound like I was well-crafted, a genetically superior human being. But the fact is, I'm not smarter or more capable than anyone. I'm just about normal.

I think it is really important for me to remember this in my training. I'm not gifted like Dean Karnazes or Pam Reed or my coach, Lisa Batchen-Smith. I don't have a natural talent or ability for running. Hell, I don't even know if my form is right. It seems every day a new article comes out about the new scientifically-proven perfect running form. Half of my nervousness about this weekend was centered around the issue of whether my coach would tell me that I had the wrong foot-strike. The result: The fear was valid- at mile 20 (or so), Lisa told me to stop running on my toes. But I thought a fore-foot strike was more natural, healthier? So much for that. 

I have to remember also to congratulate myself in some ways. It took a lot for me to get to Montana. Financially, I really had to work a miracle to be able to make it here. Support-wise, I couldn't have been more lucky. Matt drove me all the way from California to Montana, and was there supporting me the whole way. He made me drink water, eat food, and accept encouragement--even when I didn't want to. When I was walking down the road crying the last several miles, he gave me my space, drove up the road a while, checked back in to see if my situation improved, and was the most supportive and awesome one-man support team anyone could ever hope for. He drilled holes in my toenails, made me one of the most disgusting energy drinks I have ever smelled (I refused to drink it.) and played nurse to me for the rest of the trip. Lisa, my coach, wasn't able to give me a whole lot attention (seeing how she was the one who organized and administrated the entire race), but she was able to give me really solid advice and encouragement whenever I saw her.

Also, despite the self-disparaging tone of this blog, I have to say that if it weren't for my feet, I know without a doubt that I would have been able to finish the race. After running 50 miles yesterday, I'm not even sore today. My legs feel amazing, and I have a ton of energy. Today we spent the day touring around Yellowstone. We went to Water of the Gods, Hot Springs located in West Yellowstone. We went to Big Sky Montana, and saw where infamous Yellowstone Club is located. We walked through Hebgen Lake and Quake Lake, and I climbed down a slope to a sun-bleached carcass of a tree tree that had been uprooted decades before. I'm sure that had I doubled my efforts yesterday, and completed the entire 100 miles, I would have definitely been hurting more today, but know that I could have done it. 

I am lucky to have come out of this without a sustained injury, which might have been the inevitable result had I pushed myself a little farther.

The only things that hurt now are my battered and bruised toes, and my tender ego. I'm pretty sure the latter will take longer to heal. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pre-Race Jitters

 I'm laying in my bed after a long, emotional day with a coffee leaning precariously against the pillow and several mountains random stuff surrounding me. Honey Stingers, Clif Bars, Bloks, a headlamp, a red LED clip-on light, a 6-pack of socks, my gym bag with a damp yoga towel in it, and piles papers everywhere. The papers are mostly drafts of to-do lists, their successors, packing lists, business cards, and receipts.

My ability to organize appears in my life like an unexpected storm. Kind of like El Nino. There are years of devastating drought, and then all of a sudden there's a torrential downpour. But California is the desert after all, and it only a takes a few days for people to forget that it ever rained at all, and put their umbrellas back into storage. Similarly, I have bouts of intense organization, where I get down to color-coating, alphabetizing, measuring, cleaning things with a toothbrush (and enjoying it), and then spend the next few days completely chipping away at all of my hard work piece by piece. Hence, the mountains of stuff all over my room.

It gets worse when I have a lot on my mind. You can tell when I'm really stressing about something, or extremely involved in a project, because it looks like the apocalypse visited me personally. 

That being said, my mental plate is at capacity. The day after tomorrow, I'm leaving on a road trip. Every great story begins with a stranger coming to town or someone leaving on a journey, so I thought I would give you a preview of upcoming events.

On Saturday, I'm running a one hundred mile race on a course that goes from West Yellowstone to Driggs, Idaho. Every fiber of my being, every hair on my head and the 8 toenails that are remaining on my blistered feet are all screaming for me not to go. Locking my door, climbing under the covers, turning off my phone, and playing dead is a very appealing alternative to actually racing at the moment.

First of all, I don't even know if I have any business running a 100 mile race. Sure, I've been training hard. I've been running hundreds of miles every month, going to yoga every day, swimming, and doing more push-ups and sit-ups than I'd care to admit. But the thing is, I have absolutely no idea how my body will react to anything after about 60 miles. I heard a few months back that women weren't allowed to race in marathons until relatively recent history, because medical professionals believed that their uterus would fall out from the physical exertion. When I heard that, I immediately thought that the men who said that were jerks to underestimate women so egregiously. But while I write this, I've decided that it was probably a woman who concocted this little piece of fiction, because however irrational it may be, I am imagining the exodus of my uterus at about mile 80. (Sorry, Mom. I know it's vulgar.)

I digress.

I try to usually keep my blog uplifting and positive, but I think this one specifically calls for brutal honesty, so I apologize if you were letting your 14 year old son read over your shoulder and were embarrassed to witness him reading the word "uterus" on my blog.

The thing is, I know that I have to go into this race with a positive attitude and an inner strength that I'm not sure that I possess. But blisters and rotting toes be damned, I'm running it. Regardless of how difficult it is, I'm going to give it my best shot.

I'm not what you would call religious, but I'm going to ask for help from whatever God that is out there, even if it means looking for him/it/her in the changing leaves and the gravel under my feet, and the buffalo on the hillsides, and the wide open sky. Even if it means singing, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine," as I run down the black highway in the middle of the night with nothing but my little LED headlamp to guide me. 

And...theres the problem with my shoes. Unfortunately, this is a significant issue that leaves me feeling rather helpless and in the hands of fate. The problem? I don't have any. I know. It sounds crazy. I've been having a crisis with shoes for the last 6 months since I've started wearing "real shoes" instead of vibrams (five-finger shoes). The real shoes actually do help a little with the cushioning...I don't feel like the balls of my feet are on fire after a long run, but they have brought with their neon colors and their sexy designs a whole host of other problems. Blisters, black toenails, stubbed toes, ankle pain, knee pops.

You probably already know what every first-time marathon runner knows. Never change anything about what you wear or what you eat the day of the race. You will regret it. 

Now, I sincerely agree with that little pearl of wisdom and it is advice that I have passed along to others. However, practicing what I preach is another deficiency of mine. I can only do it so much, and then the chaos of life makes it impossible. I ordered the shoes my coach said I should get, I ran in them, and my toenails turned black and then fell off. I returned the shoes, continued running in my Nike Frees in the interim, and got the most epic blisters I have ever seen. My blisters have blisters. So now, I am waiting for my new shoes to show up in the mail, at the last minute, so I can take them for a run and make sure they don't completely wreck my feet.

Sorry. I digress. Again.

I'm talking about material things so much is because right now, according to my to-do list, I'm supposed to be packing. Instead I'm procrastinating.

I better stop. 

Until next time. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Running on the Freeway is Illegal

Running on the freeway is illegal. One would think that I would have deduced this simply by the fact that I have never, in my entire life, seen anyone do it. If I did see someone in workout clothes running on the shoulder of the freeway, I would most likely think that they were:

  1. Fleeing the scene of an accident, most likely inebriated
  2. Mentally challenged and/or mentally ill
  3. Running from the police, probably after they kidnapped/murdered someone
I've always known that there will be several parts of the United States where I will be unable to avoid running on major highways. I've never really thought it was that big of a deal, and I've always kind of shrugged it off, downplaying in my own mind how uncomfortable and awkward (not to mention dangerous) running on the shoulder of a freeway would be. This is mainly due to the fact that every time I would imagine myself running on a highway, I wouldn't actually be picturing myself. Instead, I would see myself as Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, complete with the scraggly beard and a smiley face t-shirt, happily plodding down the road, care-free and oblivious to the traffic whizzing by me at breakneck speeds.

 Somehow, I had completely fictionalized the idea, compartmentalizing it into the box labeled "Things That are Too Effing Scary to Think About Today". Other things in this container include: injuring myself and finishing my run on crutches, encountering large demographics of people who don't understand or support what I'm doing, and realizing out that the US has gone into full-out nuclear war when I wake up one morning to a mushroom cloud on the horizon. Some things never make it out of the box, but I knew that my fear of running on the freeway was probably something I should deal with before I actually hit the road.

As luck would have it, I already know several people who have done this. My friend Angel recently returned from a trip where he was helping to film a documentary about Gabriel Cordell, a guy who rolled across the United States in a wheelchair. (Yes, I realize that he is upstaging me, but I don't mind. More power to him!) Angel was giving me tips about the logistics of the journey, rehashing problems that they encountered, and imparting his infinite wisdom of transcontinental journeys on me. Out of the blue he asked me, "How much time have you spent on the shoulder of the freeway?" Recollecting the several traumatic automobile accidents and blowouts I've had didn't really bring up warm fuzzy feelings, so I answered, "Not a whole lot. Why?" He then began to relate to me the importance of getting comfortable on shoulder of the freeway, since next year I will be spending quite a bit of time there. "Anna," he said, "you need to spend some time out there. Like now."

I laughed it off, half-heartedly agreeing to go out to the highway with him at some point in the distant future and spend some quality time there. I wasn't very serious about it. I wanted to keep "Running on the Freeway" safely in its compartmentalized box. But, for whatever reason, whenever I try to ignore things that I shouldn't, they explode in my face. Not two hours after I hung up the phone with Angel, I was driving to Anaheim at rush hour and what happened but my tire exploded and veered to the right of the road, landing me right in the shoulder of the freeway. I know this sounds like bad writing because it is so unbelievable, but it is true. 

So, being extremely superstitious in a new-agey-the-universe-is-trying-to-tell-me-something kind of way, I decided that spending some time on the freeway and burning the rubber on my shoes instead of my tires wasn't such a bad idea after all. 

Fast forward two weeks, I decided to meet Angel and Robot for a 40 mile run on the 78 freeway between Oceanside and San Diego. They would follow me on bikes, taking pictures and documenting the entire thing.

The days leading up to the race were horrendous. It seemed like everything around me was falling apart. My work scheduled me to close on Friday night, which meant I definitely wouldn't be in bed until midnight at the very earliest, my car broke down in front of Staples while I was getting flyers made, I didn't have time to go grocery shopping for the supplies that I needed, and to be totally honest, I was scared senseless. "Running on the freeway" had finally made the transition from it's cozy place in the box of things I refuse to think about, to front-and-center. Even as I was going through the motions of preparation, I kept thinking to myself that somehow I could talk my way out of actually doing it. 

Here's the catch. If there's one thing I've realized about running across the country, it's that there is no faking it. You can't cut corners on training, diet, networking, preparation, or anything really. I won't be able to charm my way through Texas. I. have. to. run. the. whole. thing. Not only that, but I know that I have to be connected to my purpose, and as it has been brought to my attention over and over again, nothing works without integrity. If I say that I'm going to do something, I have to do it, even if theres an easy way out of it. 

At one point at work on Friday night, I was about to have a meltdown because tables just kept coming in to the restaurant. One, after another, after another, and pretty soon the whole lounge was full. In my mind, I was panicking, thinking that there was no way I would be able to run forty miles the next day on 2 hours of sleep. As my eyes were glazing over with tears, and I was trying to decide whether I should quit my job or cancel the run, I had an epiphany. 

It sounds pretty simple now, but at the time it was profound. I realized that my little drama with having to work late, having no car, and having no food for the next day was nothing in comparison to the kind of turmoil that I will have to deal with next year when I'm crossing the country. I don't know exactly what those things will be, but I know that the tiny obstacles I was facing on Friday pale in comparison to them.

So, as I stood at the cash register at my restaurant with my lip quivering and my voice shaking, I started laughing at myself, realizing that my journey across the US has already begun. I made the resolution at that moment to never give up, regardless of what stands in my way. There is always a solution. 

If I get injured on my 3rd day out, and I can't do anything but walk at 2 miles per hour, then I will put one foot in front of the other, day after day, until I recover. If the RV breaks down and I have to haul gallons of water on my back across the desert because there is no one else to carry it, I am ready to do that, too. If it seems like the Universe is conspiring to break down my will and tempt me to fail, then I will see it for exactly what it is: a challenge, and a chance to grow. 

When I decided to do this it was because I wanted to push myself beyond my limitations, to reach and surpass what I thought my potential as a human being was. I guess when I said that, I was only thinking about it from the perspective of my own will power-- the ability to push myself to be stronger, faster, kinder, more compassionate, more accepting, less vain, less materialistic, less dogmatic. What I didn't consider was that I will not be the only one pushing. The world, with it's chaos and it's inconsistency, will also be throwing wrenches in my gears. I anticipate that I will have to be creative and problem solve with a strength and equanimity that I don't yet I possess.

At the end of the day, I'm grateful for every obstacle, because it gives me an opportunity to accelerate my learning curve. Although overcoming trials and obstacles is not the only way to grow stronger, it definitely gives me an arsenal of experiences that ultimately add up to an indomitable constitution. Something bad happens, and I think, well I've dealt with x, y, and z, and I came out of it alive, so I'm pretty sure I will be okay this time, too. 

The funny thing is that once I decided that nothing would stop me from showing up on Saturday and running, everything fell into place. But I had to ask for help. The generosity, compassion and support of my friends made me feel humble and grateful in a way that shook me. From my manager at work taking over all of my tables so I could go home and rest, to my Mom for lending me her beloved racing bike, to Angel and Robot spending their whole day on Saturday riding next to me on the freeway even though they were also scared shitless and tired and uncomfortable, to Sam showing up at different intervals of the run to give us all Mama Chia and make sure we had water, to Eric waiting with me in the parking lot on Friday night for my car to get towed and bringing me supplies because I had no way to get them.  I realized in those moments that if I am determined to find a solution to a problem, and I am humble enough to ask others to help me where I fall short, nothing is insurmountable. The hardest part in all of this, is actually wanting a solution, and fighting for it. Sometimes giving up seems so much more appealing, and failure can be a sort of haven when you are trying to do something impossible. 

That being said, the day of running on the freeway was fun, scary, exciting, hilarious, and over-all a good experience. Robot was too short for her bike and fell off before we even left the parking lot. We got about eight miles down the 78 freeway before a police officer pulled us over, yelled at us, and told us that if we ever did it again, we would end up in jail. That still didn't stop us. We continued to run in the heat down winding streets and up steep hills. Towards the end of the run, the sunscreen on my face melted, running in rivulets down into my eyes. They were burning so badly that I couldn't keep them open for more than several seconds at a time, and for what seemed like an eternity I was running with my eyes closed.

After the run, I felt rewarded. My reward was the confidence I received that I really can do anything I put my mind to. In the last several weeks I've encountered a lot of disappointment. Things haven't gone the way I've expected them to, and it's really hard not to get jaded. Time and again, I've been promised things that are never delivered. Maybe what I've realized is that the reason I didn't get those things is because I didn't really earn them. Like Gary Busey once said, "When you take shortcuts, you get cut short."  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Training, Growing, Learning, and Loving

Who knew that training for this thing could change me so much as a person. I feel that more than ever I am conscious of what my body is doing, what I'm putting into it, the energy it is using and how it feels.

I'm running, swimming, crunching, stretching, hydrating, fueling, resting, jumping, and climbing for a large portion of every day. I never imagined that it would be so rewarding to dedicate myself to an endeavor like this. I'm spending so much time outside, under the sun, in nature, around people. It gives me a chance to feel very connected with everyone and everything around me.

It's easier and easier to reach out to those around me. Every runner on the road seems like a friend I haven't met yet. Every person on every trail I see presents an opportunity to say hello, to smile, to connect with another human being. We are the same species and we share this gorgeous planet. Why not lift each other up whenever we can?

I couldn't be more grateful for this experience. More than ever I feel "God" (aka love, the universe, Jesus, Allah, Ganesh, Shiva, Krishna, Amen Ra, whatever name you use) all around me. In the trees, in the sky, in the earth beneath my feet, in my fingertips, in the eyes of the clerk at the grocery store or the business man I am waiting on at my work.

I constantly find myself in awe of the beauty that has always existed, all around me, that I never fully appreciated until now. I wish there was a way to bottle this feeling and give it to everyone I meet.

Every day I get closer and closer to the launch date for my run and the reality of it becomes that much more present. The emotions it brings up are a cocktail of fear, excitement, happiness, doubt, and a kind of full-body bliss. I am charged with my purpose from head to toe.

Every step I take on my runs, I remind myself that I am not running for me. I am not running so that I can have this experience as another notch on my belt. I am running so that I can make a difference in the lives of others, and so that I can serve others.

I am running for veterans, that they might have resources available to them that they need in order to live healthy and happy lives. I'm running so that people are aware of the tremendous about of support that each and every veteran deserves from us. Whether or not we agree on the topic war, veterans are keeping everyone in this country safe by putting their lives on the line and by dedicating themselves to service. I am in awe of this commitment and what I am doing is nothing in comparison. For many reasons, there are veterans who are not being taken care of in the way that they deserve. They are our fellow Americans, our countrymen, our neighbors and our friends. It is our responsibility to take care of them because it is our obligation as good human beings to be compassionate and to care for those who need our help to the best of our ability.

I am running so that people can realize that they are capable of anything they put their mind to. I was not born a runner. I re-invented myself as one. Several years later, I am running across the United States. The truth is, I am not any more special or talented than anyone else.

My hope is to make the world a better place by inspiring others to make the world a better place.

If I can do it, anyone can.

Over and out.

Friday, August 9, 2013

What Training Looks Like

Training looks like a constant heap of sweaty workout clothes in my closet, shoes full of sand, blisters, sunburns, scrapes, smiling faces, days spent enjoying nature, vegan protein shakes, a lot of water, and alarm clocks always going off 2 hours before I'm ready to get up.

I absolutely love it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Trip to Mormon Country (aka St. George, Utah)

I'm about to lose my mind. I'm sitting in the passenger seat as my dad drives home from St. George, Utah. We are passing Vegas as I type this and I think about how the chances of me throwing myself out the window in the next four hours are becoming greater with every passing moment. It's been a while since I ventured inland. I like to stay by the coasts as a general rule, since being away from the ocean makes me a lunatic. If that isn't enough my Dad is decidedly the worst driver in the world, and my mother is the most excitable passenger in the world, so there was a lot of screaming, throwing of peanuts, snapping, laughing derisively at each other, and threatening to pull over so whoever had a problem with the way my dad was driving could get out and walk. But really, he's the worst driver in the world. I'm not exaggerating. We say that he drives by the braille method because he likes to ride the raised bumps in between lanes instead of picking a lane and sticking to it. It's horrifying.

So this trip made me realized how I live a pretty great life.  I live humbly, but my life is rich with interesting things, healthy food, good books, beautiful people, and pleasant weather. I have a job, which I love to complain about, but it's the easiest and most enjoyable job you can imagine. I spend my days running, making art, writing, and connecting with the people around me. I generally do what moves me. It's mind-blowing when I look at my younger cousins who are all married with multiple children, and I can't imagine myself in their shoes.

When I think about what my life could have been like had I chosen the path my Dad had in mind, it astounds me. 

I was born in Provo, Utah, to two Mormon parents. When I was a little girl, my Mom left the church while my Dad stayed in it. I chose not to join the church at a very young age, which terrified all of my relatives. While this might not necessarily seem like a big deal to most, my ancestors led oxen and covered wagons barefoot and pregnant across the plains to Utah so that they could freely practice Mormonism. It is a big deal in my family, and they take it seriously. To add insult to injury, I'm related to half the state of Utah between my Mother's and my Father's families. My ancestry before that goes all the way back to the Mayflower. I think. I've said that for a really long time, and I don't know if it's true, or if I just took liberties with the genealogy program my grandma let me play with. It's actually pretty easy to trace your lineage back to just about anything when you come from a long line of people who have entire litters of children instead of just one or two. From this expansive lineage, I've been endowed with a Protetsant work ethic, strong bones, and an unrelenting desire desire to cross America on foot. I guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. 

"the girls in the church"
(my mom and I)
Mormons have a saying that you can take the girl out of the church, but you can't take the church out of the girl. I just might be a walking testament of this. While I don't accept the beliefs of my family, I accept my family and I love them. Even though they are obviously aliens that adopted me. And despite the fact that I completely resented not being allowed to dress in the scandalizing clothes of my peers as a child (read: tank tops, skirts above the knee), and not being able to watch any movies that had anything above a PG rating until I was an adult, I actually appreciate the way I was raised and I see the value in it. My parents didn't let us watch TV when I was a kid, and I am eternally grateful for that. 

(As an adult, I have yet to own one, and don't plan on it any time soon. I usually don't tell people about my aversion to television because they immediately conclude that I am a pretentious intellectual. I don't think I am an intellectual, but I am definitely a snob, at least about not watching TV. It's not that I don't enjoy it. Who doesn't enjoy zoning out? It's just that I can't sit still, and I have a lot of conspiracy theories about advertising and secret plots of the media, which makes it impossible to enjoy a show without pissing off everyone around me. "Oh my God, you guys, did you just see that can of Lysol on the counter next to the Aloe Vera plant? Nice advertisement."  or "That was really bad writing. Wow. I thought you said this show had good writing. These characters are totally undeveloped." I take it too far, and I know it. So I just avoid the topic altogether in order to lessen the misery of the people around me. I digress. I ALSO
realize that it's stretching it to put an entire paragraph inside of parentheses.)

What my Mom taught me when I was growing up was that life was not about trying to win a popularity contest. Whenever I would say, "But pleeeease, Mom! Please let me go out with this boy in my six grade class! All the other girls have boyfriends!" She would flatly refuse and tell me that she didn't care how other parents were screwing up their children, and she didn't care what they thought of her, because she wasn't trying to win a popularity contest. Because being the most popular girl in my class (which I never was, not even close--I didn't even make it out of the "loser" category) was the most important thing in the world to me, I concluded that she was evil, and out to ruin my life. She would compound that feeling when she threw cliches at me like, "What is popular is not always right, what is right is not always popular."  Looking back, I was a really unattractive 11 year-old, so I'm glad that she saved me from the pain of rejection I would surely feel after I secured her permission to have a boyfriend in elementary school, only to find out it was impossible anyway. Somehow, I guess all of those aphorisms finally sunk in. That lesson--doing what is right for myself and not trying to win a popularity contest--that is an idea that I've lived by. Like my best friend Carolina says, sometimes you have to give up your need to be cool.

I went to Utah because I wanted to grow as a person (read: make myself uncomfortable, punish myself). One could say that I've cut off ties with my Mormon family for about the last ten years. I haven't shown up to Thanksgivings, Christmases, graduations, mission farewells, births, or deaths. I've avoided Utah, Nevada and Arizona in case I run into a distant relative. When I decided not to get baptized when I was a kid, and when I left the church, I guess I kind of threw out the baby with the bathwater. I rejected the religion, and so in turn, I rejected my entire family, and then told myself that it was them who rejected me. It's silly, I know. But sometimes I tell myself stories like this one just to protect my identity. 

I knew that I had to go face the music because of the project I'm doing. Just like I reached out to veterans and took their cause on as my own, teaching myself how to be compassionate and caring towards a group of people I've never tried to understand, I knew I had to extend the same olive branch to my family. I thought for sure it would be the most difficult thing in the world to reach out and humble myself before a group of people that I felt I'd been ostracized by, but I knew it was important. Like I've said before in this blog, you can't really choose who you show compassion to. You should show love and empathy to everyone. If I decided to deny my family the same courtesy I was offering the rest of the world, it would make me a hypocrite.

This is what I realized when I was in Utah. For the last twenty years, I've been missing out. Once I approached relationships with them without the filter of  "you-people-are-mother-effing-crazy-and-i want-absolutely-nothing-to-do-with-you" I saw that they actually have a lot to offer. They've created a community, a support network, a web of blonde-haired people, that I've completely been blind to. They were kind to me, happy to see me, very loving, and interesting to talk to. I realized about halfway through the trip that this whole time, regardless of whether they were judging me or not, I was definitely judging them. I was putting up the same wall that I put up with all things that I don't like, but that closely resemble me, all in order to protect my delicate ego.

While I was in St. George, I went on a drive with my Dad to Mount Zion National Park, a place where red rocks jut out of the earth skyward and carve out rivers and green vallies. The sky seems more expansive than in California, the air more crisp and clear. I started running up the side of the mountain and I realized the whole time that I wasn't able to appreciate the beauty of the place because the entire time I was thinking, "Mormon Country. Huh!" as if the whole place was ruined because it is inhabited  by a group of people that I have a complicated history with. As if Mormons ever did anything more threatening to me than bring plates of cookies to my door and ask me to come to choir practice. Sure, that's oversimplifying it, but to explain the whole story I would need another blog.

In Zion National Park, there is a formation called a blind arch. Its a natural rock formation and it's called "blind" because it is not a true arch, since you can't see through it to the other side. It's named after arches in Medieval churchers that were similarly filled in. The funny thing is that the blind arches in Zion National Park all look like human eyes. Kind of ironic. So, the arches are only blind because you say that they are. Once you realize that they are watching you trying to figure them out, you realize that they should  be called "seeing" arches instead.  This made me think about how I was blinding myself to experiencing extreme beauty, both with my family and with the earth, because I was too busy looking inward, too self-involved to notice the symphony of people, and rocks, and steeples, and sky. Once I looked outward, allowed myself to be present, and embraced reality exactly as it was, I was finally able to see again.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

When life rains lemons...

 Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, it is incrementally and in ways that you can prepare for. Other times, a torrent of grapefruit-sized yellow fruit will come down with such intentional velocity that they are virtually impossible to avoid. Accordingly, last Friday was the Hurricane Katrina of lemon's life lessons. It's gotten me thinking about resilience, and how important it is. But actually, what's more important than resilience is the ability to learn from your experiences, to see your own role in the trials you face, and to take steps to preventing similar occurrences from happeningin the future. 

I've gotten very good in the past few years at rolling with the punches. Being an "artist" and having mostly friends that are also artists, musicians, and writers, I've had a lot of experience dealing with situations wherein organization, logic, or a little more common sense could have easily prevented impending misfortune. But if I'm honest, my own slightly spacey and eccentric ways have built the foundation for my soaring house of mishaps. Losing my things, forgetting to protect my possessions (from those who might steal), failing to protect myself (from those who might harm), and a slightly distorted confidence in man's inherently good nature have all derailed my life in serious way. 

When you have experiences that you perceive as negative, it can be hard to take the blame. And I'm not talking about admitting that something is your fault, because that's easy. It's really just an out. Confused? Let me explain. 

When I do something really silly, like set my car keys down in the middle of the woods because I need my hands free to take pictures of a squirrel, and then forget about them and subsequently lose them, I obviously know that it's my fault. No one forced me to set the keys down in the dirt, and no one made me irrationally think, "This is okay. This clearing of dirt looks kinda like a triceratops, so I will definitely be able to find these later." So why do I still feel like a victim of my own absent-mindedness? It's a little silly when you consider that you really have all the control in your life. To change your habits, to better yourself, to create whatever you want. 

So, deciding to change my habits is the goal-- to buy a huge keychain so it's harder to forget my keys, to put my bills on autopay so my cell phone doesn't get shut off, to only park where parking is allowed so  that I won't get a ticket and/or towed. To eat healthy, to be kind, to be present. These are all things within my control, and when I don't do them, I'm actually rebelling against my own best interests. You might say that I'm being too hard on myself, and you might say that it doesn't seem like a big deal… until you take into account that the feeling that I am powerless over myself stays with me all day, after I've gotten my car out of the impound, after I've ordered a new drivers license, after my phone has been turned back on. And all the people and things that have seemed to victimize me- the tow truck driver, the leaves covering the clearing where I set my keys, my rotten luck--all become unnecessary enemies. I mean, that sucks. 

Rolling with the punches is great but ducking before you get knocked out seems like a much better idea.