Saturday, May 22, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Shadow Tag

Shadow Tag Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To what lengths will humans go to manipulate each other? To control each other? To hurt one another? what is the true definition of codependence?

These are some of the thematic questions Erdrich tackles with her novel Shadow Tag. Few authors manage to explore so many facets of dependent love-hate relationships as Erdrich does: from psychological abuse, to alcoholism, to spying inside diaries which then turn out to be fabricated to hurt the spy, the motives and actions of the characters in this novel are immensely intricate, complex, and deep. Gil and Irene's marriage serves as the centerpiece from which all other storylines radiate, including the parents' relationships to their children and the children's varying abilities to cope with their parents' deteriorating relationship.

Shadow Tag is intense and driven in the same way the movie Closer fails to let its audience relax for even one moment. There is a tension throughout the book that keeps the reader riveted to the pages, even once the conclusion becomes inevitable. Erdrich has written a deliberately paced novel which will keep any reader hooked until the very last pages.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

HOHA results (2nd race)

Here are official results from the HOHA Race. It is agonizing to have missed placing in my age group so narrowly yet again--especially when I ran my fastest split time ever!

Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceOverall PlaceGender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-29)
5 miles34:486:57/mile 53/47010/224 4/88

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thoughts on a Double-Race Weekend

I have decided: I am never again running a race where I don’t have either a) someone else running the race with* me or b) someone cheering for me and waiting at the finish line.

I ran two races this weekend on back-to-back days: the Healthy Kidney 10k, sponsored by the New York Road Runners, on Saturday, and the HOHA 5 miler, sponsored by the Hoboken Harriers Running Club, on Sunday. The Healthy Kidney race I ran with my friend M___ (who I originally know from playing volleyball), and the HOHA race I ran with my work running friends T___ and P___.

I didn’t anticipate doing especially well in the Healthy Kidney race, mostly because I’ve been unusually tired lately and also because 10k is a really difficult distance for me: it’s too long to all-out sprint the whole thing (like a 5k), but it’s too short to treat with the endurance/pacing mentality that I use for half marathons (or any run in the double-digits, really). Furthermore, I have only run one other 10k race to date, and I took it out way too fast at the beginning so that by mile 3 I was completely miserable. Consequently, I did not anticipate this being an enjoyable race.

In spite of my foreboding, having M___ on my tail the entire race served as adequate motivation, and helped me to pull out a nearly 7min/mile pace—quite a feat, considering that 6:58/mile is the fastest I’ve ever run a race of any length (it was a 5k). Yes, I felt like I was going to pass out at mile 5, and the last 800m were literally torture, but at least I managed an adequate performance thanks to M___.

Having run such a fast race on Saturday, I was even more skeptical about Sunday’s race. Five miles is nearly as long as a 10k—only 1.2 miles less!—so I sincerely doubted my ability to run any pace under 7:15/mile. However, my competitive spirit got the best of me yet again, because T___ kept creeping up and passing me, and I know I am faster than him, so there was no way I was willing to lose. I managed to pull away about halfway between miles 3 and 4, and thanks to the unusually fast 7min/mile pace T___ forced me to run in order to keep up with him, my determination to beat a girl wearing a blue shirt who I was determined to catch (I could see her in front of me around mile 3, and I managed to finally pull ahead in the last 200m!), and the surprise appearance and motivating cheering of another work friend B___, I somehow finished the race in under 34 minutes—a minute faster than what I ran in 2009.

These two races could have been miserable, had I run them alone. By myself, there is nothing to focus on except bodily pain and the frustration of not being able to push myself to run any faster. Friends, however, are both motivating and inspiring. While I cannot quite say that I ran these races “for” my friends, being with them made all the difference. And that’s the kind of difference I want to feel in every race.

Here are my results from the Healthy Kidney Race. (HOHA results to come.)

Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceOverall PlaceGender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-24)
6.2 miles43:557:24/mile 762/7,82681/3,726 12/312

* Note: In this context, "with" does not necessarily mean racing in physical proximity; it merely means running the same race and agreeing to meet up before and afterwards. Similar paces are preferable but not mandatory.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On Going Back to School

While it’s only been two years since I graduated from college, I feel as though I have been out of school forever. I am so far removed from the tasks of studying and taking finals that I can barely summon sufficient empathy for my friends who tell me, “I can’t talk [to you on the phone] this week; I’m studying for exams.” Studying? Rather than talk to witty, entertaining me? Who does that?

When my day is over, it’s over. I walk out of the office at 4:30 p.m. and have the rest of my day to fill as I please. I can read a book. I can go for a swim. I can go grocery shopping. I can go to sleep.

This freedom has made me very possessive of my time. It’s a struggle for me to commit to mid-week events now, because what if, on that day, I don’t feel like doing that activity anymore? If I agree to go to a museum with a friend, and then suddenly have an urge to swim, I am stuck! Moreover, if I cannot even commit to single-day events, forget committing to something that requires my attendance every week, never mind multiple times a week. Like, say, a class.

However, I did recently attend an in-house workshop (run by my company), and the experience reignited my desire to be back in school. “Joy of learning” makes me sound like a grade school class suck-up, but that is really what I felt as I sat in the HTML II workshop yesterday. Trying to wrap my mind around new concepts, such as style sheet “grammar” and how to “tell” a form where to send its information, made my brain feel like it was wakening up and trying to stretch—that mixture of simultaneous pain and relief. The experience was also a harsh reminder that I haven’t taxed myself mentally in a long, long time, and that I am out of practice for this sort of concentrated learning.

The course lasted from 9a.m.-4:30p.m., and by 2:30, in spite of the hour lunch break, my mind was saturated. All I wanted to do was practice what I had learned and not listen to one more word that the teacher was saying. Which makes me wonder: how in the world did we sit through classes all day long for 12 years of our lives?! Have I grown antsier in my old age? Less patient, and less willing to sit still and listen for hours on end? Or have I somehow become less capable? For instance, I never fell asleep in school until I got to college. And the fact that I was falling asleep in college lectures makes no sense, because I liked what I was learning in college better!

Either way, the sensation of learning was really exciting and made me again vaguely consider whether I could go back to school. Perhaps I could earn some sort of degree slowly, one course at a time. Surely I could handle one course in addition to my job, couldn’t I? Plus, that would prove I am not entirely jealous of my own time, that I can commit to something that imposes on my schedule long-term. But then that, of course, begs the question: what do I study? Whatever I want? Something practical? My “plans for the future” are not at all practical, seeing as I am considering frolicking off to China to teach English or else trying out vegetable farming in some middle-of-nowhere place. Perhaps, then, I should wait until I have a clearer plan and purpose in mind?

In the meantime, I will have to live vicariously through my boyfriend, who is about to start teaching and going to school. Maybe he’ll let me help him study and figure out lesson plans. Then I'll get a preview of my China plan for a fraction of the work and none of the pressure!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Sisters Red

Sisters Red (Sisters Red, #1) Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The concept for this book is one I typically love: to take a fairy tale and turn it modern. In Sisters Red, Jackson Pearce takes the story of "Little Red Riding Hood" and not only brings it into the modern era, but also makes it appealing to the likes of Twilight fans. The main characters--female sisters--are old enough to seem "exotic" the way older characters do to young readers (e.g. the Wakefield twins of Sweet Valley High seem incredibly exotic to suburban middle school girls), a "forbidden love" interest is included, and the Big Bad Wolf is converted into a whole clan of werewolves.

Unfortunately, the characters simply do not come off as genuine. Everything is overwrought--Scarlett's anguish and self-pity and thirst for revenge is unrelenting in an insincere way, and Rosie's unwavering loyalty comes off as overplayed. The plot follows suit very predictably, leaving little room for surprise and, therefore, reader motivation.

Pre-teen girls looking for an easy pop-fiction read will likely be an avid audience for this book . . . and its sequels. However, as a substantially interesting, well-written, thought-provoking fairytale-turned-novel, it falls short of the mark.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a story about an eleven-year-old quadriplegic, this novel takes a more positive, entertaining, upbeat tone than I thought possible. Draper manages to turn what could be perceived as a depressing or pathetic situation into fabulously fun, creative, uplifting tale by telling it from the unabashed, unapologetic point of view of Melody, the quadriplegic, herself.

Melody's character is what makes this book. She recognizes her situation and its limitations but continually strives for better, for more, for life. She knows she will never be the same as her peers, but rarely does she appear to feel sorry for herself.

My one criticism is that Melody's voice is not that of an eleven-year-old; rather, it seems more that of a sixteen-year-old trapped in an eleven-year-old's body. Granted, I have no idea what an eleven-year-old quadriplegic would sound like, but the voice of this narrator seems too mature for the character to not even have reached her teens yet. However, to change Melody's age would have been to change the entire book, and Draper does a wonderful job capturing what middle school is all about.

To take a story about a disabled youth and tell it with such lack of pity is commendable. To completely change a reader's view of quadriplegic and what they are capable of--that is phenomenal. This was a story that needed to be told, and Sharon Draper has told it commendably.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Broad Street Disappointment

I could have destroyed this race. Ten miles downhill? And in almost a directly straight line, no less! I’ve managed a 7:14/mile pace in a half marathon, and knocking 3.1 miles off of that should have given me a huge advantage. Cruise the first five, push it the second five with plenty left for a final mile sprint.

Unfortunately, I spent the week before the Broad Street Run with a nightly fever and a throat that felt like someone had punched it and then rubbed sandpaper inside. It’s amazing how quickly bodies can lose their strength and energy. I barely even took time off from running, and suddenly even a flat, riverside 3 mile run felt like an uphill marathon. I was still hopeful that I’d regain my zest by race day, but alas, to no avail.

Come Sunday morning, my throat felt better, but my entire body still felt like lead. Moreover, the humidity in Philadelphia was oppressive, to put it mildly, and the temperature was set to reach a record-breaking 90 degrees. I am not a hot weather runner, by any stretch of the imagination—I’d rather have my fingers aching to the point of being unable to bend during a single-digits run in Central Park than feel like I’m going to pass out from dehydration at 8:30 in the morning. And while this race did have ample water stations (which I actually used, much to my chagrin—since prefer running races without stopping to for water) and used fire hydrants to spray runners along the course, it still wasn’t enough. I was soaked by the end, as much from having dumped half of every Dixie cup full of water down the front of myself as from sweat.

My one notable moment in the race came when I was actually trying to avoid a fire hydrant. I had just run under one and didn’t want water to start dripping into my eyes, so I was gradually trying to make my way toward the middle of the pack of runners on the street. (Note: this race was actually good preparation for the NYC Marathon, however, because 30,000 runners is considerably closer to the 45,000 I’ll be running with in November than any other race I’ve run.) I was shifting over gradually, checking to make sure I that wasn’t cutting anyone off, when suddenly my left leg was nearly kicked out from under me. Luckily my stride was strong enough to withstand it and I righted myself, but I looked around to see what had happened. This woman in a white-and-pink sports bra and a checkered baseball cap came running up on my left, clearly intent on getting under the spray of the hydrant while also trying to pass me. She kind of muttered what I assume was an apology, but she didn’t even look at me!

That got me mad. We had reached about mile 7, and all I could suddenly think was that I had 3 miles left to burn this b@#$!. No way was I letting her beat me when she almost just tripped me! And didn’t even say sorry! It was on.

In spite of my less-than-stellar performance, at least I managed to beat that lady…and 14,000 other women. So I cannot complain too bitterly; I just have to step up my game and PR my next race!

Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceOverall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F21-24)
10 miles1:14:317:25/mile 1,232/26,169 228/14,340 44/1,921