Monday, December 31, 2012

Riding the New Year's Subway

Prompt: Write a holiday story.

Time: 10 minutes


It's my favorite time to ride the train. Lots of the guys say to me, "Naw, Chad, you ain't wanna be around for that shit. All 'em floozies doin' nonsense and them guys itchin' for a fight." But I brush them off and ride anyway.

It's always been my favorite holiday: all the glam and sham all mashed together so everyone thinks it's a new beginning when it's just one more shitty year down the drain. You don't see sequins any other time of the year but New Year's Eve. All that glitz and gold twinkling and girls tossing their hair like they got money or something. I ignore most of the guys, 'specially later at night when their lids get lower, right along with their hand on their date's thigh.

But the kids you see, their eyes are always sparkling like all those sequins, and you can almost smell the whiteness of the snow on their boots. They can't sit still, all that limitless energy bound up in tiny little bodies . . . it's like they're ready to yank their parents into the new year instead of just off the train.

This year I'm following this one girl. Not like a stalker, nothing like that. She's just been up and down the One line four times already, carrying the same shiny red box. The silver bow fell off one time, but even though I saw it, I didn't pick it up, and eventually one of the guys by the door in a backwards baseball cap and Timberlands picked it up. He tried to get a kiss for it, too, but I guess she's saving her kiss for someone else.

I love her a little for not wearing high heels, and for obviously forgetting to put in earrings. If I still worked in Columbus Circle and dressed in khakis and shaved more than once a month, she's the kind of girl I'd have asked out. Maybe someday. For now I'll just ride the train into 2013.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tin Man: The Beginning

Prompt: Write fan fiction using one of the following characters: Captain Kirk from Star Trek, Jacob from Twilight, or any character from The Wizard of Oz.

Time: 10 minutes


No one ever asked him how he lost his heart. Sure, sure, when Dorothy came along, everyone just thought he was delusional and had had a heart all along. But no one pounded on his chest to see. If they had, they would have heard the same hollow echo that had been there at the beginning of the yellow brick road.

This story starts far, far away; far from the yellow brick road; far from where Dorothy came upon the Tin Man, all stiff and hollow. There once was a time and a place where the Tin Man wasn't stiff or hollow at all, but was the strongest man in all of Oz. The time was many many years ago, when the Tin Man was still oiled and sleek and able to wield every tool with skill and dexterity, not just the sorry little hatchet he ended up with at the end. And the place was . . . well, the place was in Oz, but it was a place no one else had ever explored. A place anyone has yet to explore. The Elemental Mountains.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Three Metals

Prompt: Write a piece incorporating 3 metals.

Time: 10 minutes


There once were three little orphans: Tilly, Sally, and Sue. They were very poor and lived in a hut with their mother, where they all knitted small bits of yarn together, leftover from the nearby store, and sold the pieces for food at the market. One day, however, their mother lost her job cleaning the yarn shop.

"Tilly, Sally, and Sue, I'm sorry but we do not have enough food. I shall have to give you up."

Tilly, Sally, and Sue cried bitterly and begged her not to abandon them, but to no avail. The next day, their mother brought them to the local orphanage and left them huddled on the doorstep.

Sue, being the youngest and most frightened, began to cry immediately. Sally, the middle child, stood to the side, snuffling and rubbing her empty belly. Tilly, the eldest, did her best to comfort her sisters, but soon she too sank into despair. She collapsed onto the steps and buried her head in her hands.

Suddenly, a man was standing before them. He was grisled and without much hair, and Tilly would have thought him one of the town's vagrants except for his shoes--they shone with polish.

"What makes you weep so, little ones?"

"Our mother has left us," Sue whimpered.

"Well," said the man, "I cannot give you back your mother, but I can give you this." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tin cup, which he handed to Sue. "Whenever you are thirsty, put this cup to your lips and it will be full."

Sally stamped her foot. "I'm thirsty! Can I have a cup?"

"No," the man said, "That was my only cup. But here," he extended his hand, in which he held a brass ring. "If ever you are caught, twist this ring and you shall be free."

"You are an old man," said Tilly, "but very generous. Thank you for these odd gifts."

"For that compliment, my dear, you get this." He handed her a copper penny.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Jeweler's Apprentice

Prompt: Draw a superpower out of a hat. I drew "ice."

Time: 10 minutes


It was the perfect job for her, really. Her friends had always called her the ice queen for turning away every guy who came calling. The guys called her "frigid bitch," both in front of and behind her back. Either way, landing this gig in the jeweler's shop on Brunswick Street was perfect. She could walk to and from work, she only had to work with one person--the jeweler, Stan--and she could be as snarky as she wanted to the foolish boys and even more foolish men who carted rings in and out of the place. Stan didn't care, and all of the clients were rich enough that one moderately attractive girl's sneer didn't faze them.

For the first few weeks, she played by the rules. Her work was flawless, and Stan was elated that she was willing to stay late and work weekends. She had always preferred hard, immobile objects to people, so working with diamonds late into the night suited her just fine.

But then the clientele started getting to her. The way one man pushed his wife out the door a little too roughly, or another haggled Stan down $300 when the watch the guy was wearing cost three times what they were charging for the ring. Finally, when one guy came in three times in one day to "check on" the ring they were making for him, with a different woman on his arm each time, she lost her resolve. That night, instead of making fine cuts to the surface of the diamond and removing material from the rock, she added a few fine layers of ice--just enough to add the same sparkle and shine the cuts would have made, but not so much that the diamond was noticeably larger.

The next day, the guy came back with yet another new woman on his arm. As he complimented Stan on his fine craftsmanship, she smiled sweetly and tucked the box into its neat little paper bag.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: Testimony

TestimonyTestimony by Anita Shreve
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the concept for the structure of this book. I really enjoy stories told from multiple angles, and Shreve goes one step further with this book by telling the story not only from multiple characters' perspectives, but also by writing those perspectives from multiple points of view (e.g. first person, third person, and even second person). Even more interestingly, each character is telling their portion of the story with respect to a third party interviewer: someone they are considering speaking to, are planning to speak to, or are currently speaking to.

I sorely wanted to give this book a 5-star review, but Shreve overcomplicated the book just a bit too much by adding too many time shifts between narrators. As the reader, not only did I need to reorient myself as to who was telling the next bit of the story and how they were narrating it, but I also had to determine where I was within the chronology of the story. Some portions were second or third person accounts of what a character was currently or was planning to tell the interviewer, while some portions were first person narratives of what a character was actually telling the interviewer, and this of course influenced what time frame the character was speaking about or experiencing.

The story itself, however, is compelling from all angles. Shreve has an excellent sense of every age from which she tells the tale, and she creates empathy for ever participant, from the headmaster to the boys accused of the crime. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in literature about boarding school communities, family interactions, young adult introspection, and characters studies.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

An Epitaph

I was cleaning out a drawer in my old Pittsburgh bedroom over this past Thanksgiving break, and I came upon this poem. I've never considered myself much of a poet, but I was actually a little impressed with this one, so I thought I'd share it. I have no idea how old I was when I wrote it, but I have very clearly lost my rhyming ability since then.

An Epitaph

There once was a child
and she loved to eat
spoonfuls of pudding
and salty fried treats

One fateful day
she caught her reflection
and saw every bulge
each imperfection

At about that time
she looked to the sky
wishing and dreaming
of kissing a guy

But as the time passed
and other girls dated
she began to feel
more and more deflated

So the girl began
to do what she could
she ate less and less
so she'd look as she should

But to her dismay
when at last she looked good
authorities caught her
and made her eat food

Angry and ugly
and out of control
she caved in and let
self-hatred take hold

Quite soon after that
she started to gain
more weight than she ever
had held on her frame

Her stomach bulged out
and she cursed its swell
as she stuffed her face full
and damned it to hell

She knew that the guy
who'd aroused her with lust
would now see her figure
and grimace in disgust

So she dressed in sweats
for she had much to hide
like her expanding waist
and jiggling thighs

This all made her sad
when she watched every other
girl that she knew
attract a new lover

At last one fine day
she looked in the mirror
and smiled 'cause she knew
she had nothing to fear

For she had failed once
but she would fix that
when she unsheathed the knife
and carved out her fat

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pittsburgh Turkey Trot 2012

Perfect way to pregame for Thanksgiving? A 5 mile race at 9am, of course!

It was even better this year because my parents came along to cheer, and both my sister A___ and my dedicated boyfriend R___ ran the race too! It certainly wasn't my fastest race, but it was nice to have an active event to do this morning, since I have spent the majority of this holiday so far either sitting in a car or eating.

Results from this race:

Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceOverall PlaceGender PlaceAge Group Place (F25-29)
5 miles38:017:36/mile260/1771?/92318/202

Monday, November 19, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: Amy and Isabelle

Amy and Isabelle Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beautiful, lyrical writing. This book is for those readers who read simply for the characters. The plot was intentionally predictable, with every turn foreseeable chapters before the characters come to make the discoveries. The mother-daughter connection is written poignantly, and "the past will repeat itself" theme is clearly stated without being annoyingly repeated.

My qualm with the book is its pacing. Once I read a heart-rending passage, I wanted more; I wanted acceleration. Instead, as soon as Strout finished a chapter, she would begin the next one with outstanding but lengthy descriptions of scenery or town history. With every chapter I felt like I was moving backward before I could more forward, and I am a very forward-moving reader.

However, the relationships between women--young friends, old friends, coworkers, wives, mothers and daughters--are all rendered with authenticity, which I greatly appreciate in a book which, superficially, is about affairs between men and women.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: Sad Desk Salad

Sad Desk SaladSad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I agree with many of the other two-star reviewers: it was ok.

I don't read much chick lit, so I'm not sure if it's all like this. I actually only read this book because I received it as a galley copy from HarperCollins. Still, even if chick lit is all written like similarly, this is a book I could have written . . . back in 7th grade when everything I wrote mirrored my life, only with far more melodrama than I could muster up in real life. I am unimpressed by any of the characters including Alex herself, and while I can sincerely appreciate the dilemma of "making numbers" at any moral cost, I remained uninspired by Alex's wishy-washy self observations: she observed that she was making the wrong decisions and then made them anyway again. And again. And again. And I simply couldn't identify enough with her at the outset to care that she was clearly making a mess of herself.

On top of that, I am offended by the very concept of a "sad desk salad" (something that "desiccated chicken breasts" and "greens with low-fat dressing" eaten by girls in offices all over the country) and am even more offended by Alex's belief that she is bucking the trend when she goes to get not one but two slices of pizza. To my mind, this perfectly epitomizes everything I did not like about the book: its reliance on--often false--stereotypes of working women, particularly those recently graduated from college.

Is it the worst book I've ever read? No. Would I recommend it to any fellow readers I know? Definitely not.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012


Prompt: Choose a phobia from the list provided. Write about it.

Time: 10 minutes


It's watching me. I glance over my shoulder, but nothing is there. Nothing I can see, at least.

Shifting uncomfortably, I cross and then uncross my legs. What is taking her so long? I agreed to come see Laura's prom dress; I did not agree to sit alone in her living room with that . . . thing.

There's a rustle in the corner, and I snap my head around so hard my neck cracks. The dusty leaves of the fern on the windowsill rustle, but nothing is there.

I know it's watching me. Circling closer. Plotting.

My neck starts to itch. I sit on my hands so I won't scratch, but then I start to envision the thing launching itself toward my face, claws extended. So I bring my hands back out and clasp them tightly in my lap.

A door opens upstairs. A voice floats down,

"Sorry Katie, I'll be right there."

I hear the shuffle of chiffon and sequins across wood an hear another door slam.

Couldn't she have warned me? That would only have been polite. What if I was allergic? Actually, who's to say I'm not allergic?

My throat fels scratchy, so I clear it. More phlegm seems to ooze back into my throat, so I clear it again. And again. I reach up. It feels swollen.

I start to hyperventilate in raspy wheezes. My eyes dart frantically around the room. Where is it? I know it's there, stalking me.

"Show your face!" I shout, gasping.

A door opens and Laura comes down the steps. In a blur of black, the beast is on her, around her neck.

"Ow! Tonx, stop!" She removes the claws gingerly and looks back at me. "So, what do you think?"

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What a Light Bulb and a Stomach Have in Common

You know how, during a thunderstorm, you feel incredibly annoyed when the power goes out? Great, now I can't watch the rest of this movie. Seriously, you'd think power companies would be able to prevent this sort of thing. Guess I'll go find the flashlight. Now turn the thunderstorm into a hurricane and that one night into one week.

Losing power for one night makes you recognize how much we take electricity for granted: without it, there's no reading after dark, no television, no internet. Losing power for a week makes you realize how many aspects of your life rely on this resource (and how little attention you ever paid to this dependence): no refrigeration, no freezers, no street lights, no heat or air-conditioning. No credit cards. No cell phones.

Believe it or not, I actually thought I was prepared to lose power during Hurricane Sandy. (Well, at least mentally prepared.) Even without rain or flooding, we all knew that the wind would be brutal and would probably knock down a power line or two. Therefore, although I was a little nervous about only having two candles and a flashlight, I was feeling rather gracious during those first few days, especially as I observed the amount of destruction and devastation around me. Okay, we haven't gotten power back yet, but it's only been two days. They must be working on it, and they probably have a lot of apartments to restore. At least my apartment didn't get flooded. I should be grateful enough for that. They'll get the power back on soon enough. Plus--hey--this is sort of like camping, right? An adventure!

After five days of "adventure," however, all I really wanted to do was watch a movie. That, and take off my winter hat and coat. No electricity meant no heat, and it also meant that around 4:30pm, it was time to start planning where we could go to bide the time until we had to return to our pitch-black apartment and force ourselves to sleep. Luckily, a neighbor gave us some candles, so at least we could make our way around the apartment at night without any catastrophes.

Finally, after a full week of darkness, cold, and, of course, no internet, I jetted away on a work trip to California. Finally I'll have good food, a warm room to sleep in, and unlimited access to do all of those things on the internet I've been meaning to do. The next morning, however, I awoke to a new, brutal reminder of yet another aspect of life most of us take for granted: our health. At first I just thought I had eaten too much at dinner the night before. As the hour wore on, however, I realized that mere digestion was not the issue. Something was seriously wrong in there.

I had been sent to California to work at a scientific conference, and I was one of only two people who were responsible for setting up our company's booth in the exhibits hall of this conference. Work had paid to fly me here, and my coworker was depending on me to be there to help. That sense of indebtedness, combined with my Protestant work ethic and Catholic-school-instilled guilt, motivated me to get up off of the cold tile bathroom floor, pull on some clothes, and wobble out to the street below.

I had only gone one block when I realized that if  I didn't sit down, something awful would happen. I immediately sank to the curb and leaned heavily over my thighs. What was wrong with me? The traffic light changed twice before I got myself back up and trudged on. I made it across the street before the wave of naseau hit me. I could see a garbage can, but in someone's moment of genius, they had welded on a cover that hovered three inches over the opening. No way would I get my head in there. That left me, sitting on the edge of a flower planter, puking my guts out beside the garbage can.

This story doesn't really have an ending, although if you really want to know, power was restored to my apartment after two weeks, and I am back to eating solid foods again. The point is this: there is an awful lot in our privileged lives that we never recognize until it is taken away. At that point, we can either be grateful we had it in the first place (and will likely have it again), or we can moan, groan, and wallow in our misery. Some moaning and groaning is inevitable, but I hope that the next time something I take for granted is taken away, I can feel even more gratitude when it is returned.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane To Do List (at least until the power goes out)

  • Check
  • Bake stuff
  • Go on Facebook
  • Watch The Avengers
  • Go on Facebook
  • Check email
  • Check email again
  • Go back on Facebook
  • Look out window
  • Check again
  • Watch lights flicker
  • Stare at until eyesight becomes blurry
  • Go back on Facebook. Stay there.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Notes from an IT Presentation

After sitting through an IT presentation about "new" technology that we have recently received with our latest Microsoft update, I have a few notes I'd like to share. When you work for IT and are trying to convince colleagues to use new technology:
  • Don't start the meeting with technical difficulties. If IT can't get it to work, how do you expect us to use it?
  • Don't sound like you are convincing yourself how easy it is. If it's easy, we'll figure it out. If not, no amount of pontificating will convince us to use it.
  • Don't assume that your normal non-IT colleagues have the same snazzy equipment as you do. If it's not standard-issue, we don't have it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: Gold

GoldGold by Chris Cleave
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is more than a book for cycling enthusiasts. This is a book for athletes. And also for parents. A book for anyone running from something in their past, and anyone who has been betrayed by a close friend. It's a book for readers who crave fully developed, complex, dynamic characters. It's a book for writers looking to read more good writing.

Gold is about Kate and Zoe: two elite British track cyclists who have competed against each other for their entire lives. Their final showdown will be the 2012 London Olympic games. However, as Cleave gradually reveals the backstory of each character, the reader begins to realize that the real conflict is not just about who will win gold at the Olympic games.

As an endurance and recreational cyclist, I sincerely appreciate the research Cleave did in order to render his athletes both believable and compelling. As an avid reader and sometimes-writer, I appreciate the complexity with which he develops his characters in the readers' mind.

I now must go back and read his previous two novels. I sincerely hope they were as well crafted as this one.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe, if I hadn't just read the considerably better Hunger Games, or if I didn't habitually read bad "pop action" books--like, well, anything by Iris Johansen--where every female lead is weak-but-strong (you know, where she "should" be a weakling but just keeps doing all of these incredibly amazing things to save herself and every other "good guy" in the novel), or maybe if I actually was still twelve years old and cleaning out the YA section of the library every time I visited, maybe then I could give this book a more positive review.

For dystopian fiction, it ultimately isn't bad. It just isn't particularly good, either. There were a few slightly promising characters . . . until they too became caricatures, fulfilling the stereotypical roles of "evil bad guy" or "eternally patient, protective, good (but bad) boy." The settings were interesting . . . until the reader starts to wonder about them (e.g. who controls the trains and why don't they ever stop them to let other factions ride?).

Ultimately, I guess I just had higher expectations. But then again, if I were still a "true" young adult, I might have loved this book. So I can't be completely disappointed.

After all, it's hard to pan a book that uses faction names to teach kids vocabulary words. Did anyone else know what the word "amity" meant before reading this book?

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Nightcap

Prompt: Take an element from the first prompt responses and use that, somehow, in the a new piece. (My element was a line from J___'s piece, "A nightcap. Isn't that an odd word.")

Time: 10 minutes


A nightcap. Isn't that an odd word. It was usually more like a nightstart or a nightpour, at least with his mother. He couldn't think of one time when she sat down to have a nightcap and the cap actually stayed on the bottle. Usually, the refrigerator would rumble four or five times at least, ice plinking down into her newly empty cup. Then there would be a silence until the light creak of her footsteps on the stairs. Then silence again, until her lavender hair brushed his face, her sour breath mixing with the smells of summer.

Tonight was no different. At eight on the dot, she sent him up to bed. He climbed the stairs alone, wiggling his toes down into the worn carpet rectangle on each step before lifting his foot to the next. It lasted longer that way.

He would rather stay down with her, in the soft lamplight, snuggled under blankets with an ear pressed to the radio. Well, maybe not right against it. She only let him do that when she had already started, maybe one or two in. But with each step up the stairs, the air grew colder and the house grew darker, and when he reached the landing, he knew he was the last little boy left in the whole world.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: The Sisters

The SistersThe Sisters by Nancy Jensen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It's undeniable that this writer has talent. However, she should have stuck to a few fewer pairs of sisters. By the time you start to feel compassion for a character (even one who you previously despised after reading about them from another character's point of view), you are whisked off in time to meet a new character at a new stage of life, and eventually there are just too many women introduced and all vying for your sympathies as a reader to care about any of them.

If Jensen writes another book, I'll likely look for it, because I really enjoyed her writing style. She has a way of getting the heart of each character's motivation quickly and effectively that I sincerely admire. However, this book just didn't do it for me.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

It Started in an Airplane

Prompt: Write about infidelity.

Time: 10 minutes


Quite honestly, when he first sat down, I was pissed. Here I was, settling in for a ten-hour transatlantic flight, and who had to squeeze into the seat beside me but the six-foot muscly guy with a buzz cut. There were two skinny Asian women across the aisle and a fourteen-year-old in the seat behind me, but I got stuck with the giant.

Hunkering down, I settled in until the flight took off, trying my best to stay as far from the left armrest as I could. Inevitably, however, as I almost always do, I began to do the head nod . . . .

The next thing I knew, the ground was shifting beneath my . . . cheek! Jerking upright, I looked in horror at what I had been using for a pillow: my giant seatmate's shoulder. And that wasn't the worst of it. Right there, squarely atop the sleeve of his clean white T-shirt was a large, dark drool stain.

"I'm . . . I'm so sorry." I looked at the armrest, my lap, anywhere but his face. "I . . . this is so embarrassing."

"Don't worry about it." He grinned and waved away my apology. "Wasn't using that shoulder for anything else."

I laughed awkwardly, wishing I could have wiped the crust out of the corner of my mouth before he started looking at me.

"No really," he assured me, sensing my discomfort. "I kind of . . . liked it."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Boat on a Beach

(Not this exactly picture, but something similar.)

Time: 10 minutes


"You promised. You promised!" I raced after him, kicking up sand behind me. With his long strides, he reached the boat well before I could catch up. His big callused hands scooped up the thick ropes and began to untangle them.

When I finally reached him on the dock, I stood there, panting and shaking hair out of my eyes.

"Dad . . . no . . . you . . . you promised . . .we could . . . we could take Charley . . . out."

We were supposed to go on our first fishing trip today. Today. My birthday.

"Son, I know I promised, but sometimes things get in the way of promises." He had finished untangling the ropes and was methodically wrapping them around his knuckles.

"But it's nice outside, look!" I waved my arms around. "See? It's not raining. It's not!"

"Not yet." My dad stared out at the bay, at the clouds gathering over the choppy gray water.

"See? See dad? We can still go. Real quick!" I slipped around him and stuck one leg into the boat. Into Charley.

"No." My dad stopped winding the ropes and stood silently staring at me. "Paul, get out."

"But Dad--"


I yanked my foot out of the boat so hard I nearly fell over in the sand and stomped off down the dock. When you're seven, he had said. Seven's the magic age. I took my first fishing trip with my dad when I turned seven.

Magic age, huh. I kicked at a splintered plank of wood until a piece broke off and flew out over the end of dock. Yeah sure.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

No Broken Records at Newport Liberty Waterfront Half Marathon

Having dropped my race times from 1:45 to 1:35: to 1:33 in my last several half marathons, I suppose I have been getting luck and spoiled. In reality, no one can PR ("personal record") every race, and this race was the one that brought home that hard truth for me. A final time of 1:36:12 (averaging 7:21/mile) ranks this time squarely in the middle of all the half marathons I have ever run. Four have been faster, and four have been slower. The downside is even back in 2010, when I was still a running neophyte, I raced a time faster than 1:36.

On the bright side, it was a beautiful sunny day, with the temperature hovering around 65 degrees--nearly perfect running conditions, at least for me. Plus, the race began a 20-minute walk from my apartment, which meant that I didn't have to get up until the luxurious hour of 7am. (Unlike most races, where I oftentimes have to be out the door by 5am.)

The field size was pretty perfect, as well: about 2,500 runners ran, and while the course narrowed severely in several places, I was able to chalk those instances up to training for the NYC Marathon in November, where the field size is 45,000, and I'll be running toe-to-heel in a mass of runners for the entire race.

Between miles 2 and 4, I paced off of a girl with long red hair wearing teal shorts. I thought she was going to take off ahead of me . . . but then I passed her. Around mile 5, a tall, sweaty, overly tan old man wearing a white sweatband and a yellow singlet elbowed past me. He was running at a pretty fast clip, so I ran on his heels for about three miles, until I passed him, as well.

Near mile 8 I got to high-five two little girls, at mile 11 I high-fived R___ (who very sweetly came out to cheer me on), and when I finished the race, I stood by a spectator wielding a megaphone and cheered my head off when I saw my friend T___ charging toward the finish line.

All in all, not a bad morning. Not a bad way to check off one more training run, either. Only six weeks left until the final goal: the NYC Marathon.

Results from this race:

Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceOverall PlaceGender PlaceAge Group Place (F25-29)
13.1 miles1:36:127:21/mile272/2,63936/1,14312/290

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: Game of Thrones #1

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I generally don't read or enjoy reading fantasy or anything set in medieval times. Game of Thrones, however, is the exception to that rule. Martin makes up for the length and detail of the book by alternating points of view and threads of his story in each chapter. This keeps things interesting and the reader compelled, especially when they favor a certain character. From what I hear, that character will probably eventually be killed . . . but it's nice to enjoy their voice for at least one book.

What's even more refreshing is how closely the first season of the television series follows this first book. I made the unusual decision to watch the television series first, and when I sat down to read the book, it was almost like re-watching the show! Even much of the dialogue was the same.

I look forward to reading the second book . . . and watching the second season.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Envelop Challenge

Prompt: Write using the randomly chosen following items:
  • 2 Characters: a used car salesman and a garbage collector
  • 1 Setting: hell
  • 1 Object: a Chanel handbag
  • 1 Genre: obituary

Time: 10 minutes


Bob Tarley, 1955-2008. Son of Penelope and Michael Tarley. Brother to Katie Tarley. Died on 29 December 2008 of manslaughter.

He was on his route through Hell's Kitchen, collecting garbage behind a falafel shop, when Lenny Freedman, a used car salesman who works part time as a cross-dresser, approached him and asked for a ride to Long Island. Bob refused, and as he turned to board his truck, Lenny embedded one of his 
Louboutin  heels into Bob's thigh and proceeded to strangle Bob with the leather strap of his Chanel handbag. 

Bob leaves behind two children, Mary and Gary, and his wife Susan, who mourns him even as she celebrates her newly acquired Chanel handbag.

May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

President: Past, Present, or Future

Welcome to the product of my first writing prompt, written with the Jersey City Writers Group!

Prompt: Write about a president: past, present, or future.
Time: 10 minutes

Amy had been standing in line for forty minutes already when she remembered.

"Oh shit."

She reached into her purse, rooted around, and came up empty.


The mother behind her glared as she pulled her son closer. Sighing to herself, Amy darted out of line. How could she have forgotten it?

Gritting her teeth, she raced back across the parking lot, toward her Mazda. If only Ron was still at home, she could call him. But no, he had to be all punctual and go this morning. Now, she knew, he was out drinking with his friends, celebrating what he was sure would be a forgone conclusion.

Actually, on second thought, it was probably a good thing he wasn't home. He would probably have had something condescending to say about women when he saw her rushing in. Women, and women candidates.

Careening onto the highway, she thought about what Ron had said that morning at breakfast.

"Babe, no one's going to vote for HIllary. All the blacks think she's butch, all the spics think she's Republican, the women are too busy wiping spit off their kids' mouths to vote, and the men know better. Why don't you just stay home from the polls this afternoon and save yourself some frustration?"

Well, she was going to make her vote count.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: 50 Shades of Gray

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am truly embarrassed for anyone who liked this book. I am also embarrassed for anyone I see reading it in public. And I am most embarrassed to know that my father (who lent me his copy) will be reading this book. In the same way you don't want to think about your parents having sex, you don't want to think about your parents reading about sex. Even terribly repetitive, completely unrealistic sex.

Rather than trying to explain how much I hated this book--which would involve me going off on a linguistic rant about poor writing style; elementary word choice; flat, static, completely unbelievable characters; and the most predictable plot line of any romance, ever--I think I will merely offer some of the lines that made me want to rip my eyeballs out of their sockets. As an English major, avid reader, and merely literate person, I am horrified that these phrases are making this author and publisher money:

--My heartbeat has picked up, and my medulla oblongata has neglected to fire any synapses to make me breathe. Pretty sexy stuff, with the medulla oblongata getting all frazzled. I wonder if even half of her readers even know where that organ is in the body....

--Boy he's angry. He grabs my hand and leads me back into the apartment and straight into my bedroom . . . no passing go. Since when does BDSM involve playing Monopoly? Actually the scene might have actually been more interesting if they had played Monopoly.

--Holy Moses, he's all mine to play with, and suddenly it's Christmas.At least she stuck to biblical references in this sentence, although I can't for the life of me determine why she's thinking about Moses and Christmas when she usually is thinking "f*ck* and "holy crap."

--F*ck, this is sexier than the toothbrush. Sorry, but brushing your teeth with a guy's toothbrush is not sexy. It just isn't.

Have Marco call me, it's shit or bust time. No CEO of any company would ever say this. After all, wouldn't "shit" and "bust" be more like companion, not opposites?

--"Ana, baby!" he cries, and it's a wild invocation, stirring and touching the depths of my soul. Realistically speaking, you have to touch something to stir it. And I don't think this is a very wild invocation, seeing as he's already said it at least 20 times in the first 3/4 of the book.

Another thing that drove me completely bonkers as I slogged through the book: in writing 101, probably back in high school or even junior high, you learn that most lines of dialogue do not need to be qualified with anything other than the simple word "said". If you have constructed the scene well and your reader has a sense of the characters, you should draw more attention to what they're saying and less to how they say it. The reader will understand how the character is saying their line, because the reader should already know how that character feels. James, however, insists on qualifying every instance of speech in the entire book. Her characters murmur, hiss, shout, cry, blaze, beam, and--the most common of all--whisper their dialogue. Never can they just talk.

I could go on and on, but I'll finish this up by saying that if I ever meet Anastasia's subconscious or inner goddess, I'll probably strangle it death. Only then would I venture to read the next book in this trilogy, because only then could I be assured neither would show up to torment me again with their trite, cheesy selves.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bucket List (but not mine!)

You can find the strangest things inside of library books. Old receipts, ticket stubs, string, hair ties . . . and apparently bucket lists!

I found this written on the back of a crumpled blue post-it note, inside of The Marriage Plot (by Jeffrey Eugenides). Not sure if there's any correlation between the type of person who would write a bucket list on a post-it and the type of person who would read that book, but based on some of these items, we can at least assume that the book is written at a pre-college reading level!

Bucket List

  • Go to Atlantic City w/Megan (when we are 18) and gamble away some of my money
  • Study Abroad:  Germany, Deutschland, Espana
  • Learn to drive
  • Buy a car
  • Visit a tea farm in India
  • Take some zumba classes (feel comfortable, quit if suck)
  • Speak Spanish conversationally
  • Climb up mountain w/Megan
  • Find a long-term lover
    • must be clean
    • knows when to be quiet
    • likes coffee or at least makes me coffee
  • Make brownies from scratch
  • Visit redwoods
  • Bike around perimeter of Manhattan

I'm proud to say that I have run the perimeter of Manhattan, seen redwoods, made brownies from scratch (several times!), studied abroad, been to Las Vegas (forget Atlantic City), learned to drive, and found a long-term lover who at least knows when to be quiet . . . and does happen to like coffee, even if I don't. It makes me feel accomplished to be able to check so many things off of a bucket list, even if it's not mine!

What are some of the items on your bucket list?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fascinating Facts From "The Lunch Hour"

On a guided tour of the NY Public Library's latest exhibit "The Lunch Hour," I learned the following fascinating facts:
  • Pastrami was originally made of goose! (Now it's beef.)
  • My favorite luncheon slang term: smear one, burn it = toasted cheese sandwich.
  • In 1917, 21% of schoolchildren (K-8) were found to be malnourished. In 2011, 20.7% of schoolchildren were found to be obese.
  • The term "power lunch" first appeared in Esquire in 1979, referring to the Grill Room of the Four Seasons restaurant in NYC.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Pittsburgh Triathlon 2012 - Results

This was more than a race; this was an entire weekend event. Here was the schedule of events, in the order that they happened.

7:00pm Friday: Took the train to Madison, NJ to meet J___. (Note: The entire reason I chose to do this race is because my coworker and fellow running friend J___ came to me earlier this year saying that he wanted to try competing in a triathlon. Offhanded, I suggested the Pittsburgh Triathlon, saying that if he drove, I'd do it with him. To my great surprise, he agreed, and what's more, he wanted to compete in the International/Olympic distance race, not the Sprint distance. This suited me just fine, although I was a little concerned for him, as he did not even own a bike at this point, and had only recently begun swimming laps at his local Y....)

10:00pm Friday: Departed Madison with our bikes secured--handy-man style, using plywood, bungee cords, duct tape, and bubble wrap--to the back of J___'s car.

4:00am Saturday: Arrived at my parents' house in Pittsburgh, with our bikes--fortunately--still in tow.

10:30am Saturday: Drove down to the startingarea to pick up race materials. Inspected the mud pit that would be our transition area the next day, took a preparatory walk through the transition from swim to bike, and listened to a "beginner briefing."

2:00pm Saturday: Stifled my complaints as we left Heinz Stadium (J___ wanted to buy a Terrible Towel, which is a desire I fully support) and drove up to Mount Washington where my dad could give J___ a more complete Pittsburgh Tour.

4:00pm Saturday: Arrived back home. Collapsed on an inflatable mattress in my sister's old bedroom for an hour nap.

6:30pm Saturday: E___ and her husband and child, K___ and her boyfriend, P___ (a guy I met a few weekends ago at Brighton Beach), J___, my parents, my sister, my cousin K___, and I sat down to a delicious pre-race meal of rice, salmon, and broccoli. And, of course, plenty of water.

8:00pm Saturday: M___ arrived, just in time for dessert: homemade chocolate chip cookies, compliments of my wonderful mom.

10:30pm Saturday: My things have been packed and laid at the foot of the air mattress. Bedtime.

4:30am Sunday: In the car and off to the race start!

6:45/6:50/6:55am Sunday: P___ starts/J___ starts/I start. I pass both on the swim.

7:18am Sunday: I un-rack my bike alongside the girl who will eventually go on to place 2nd overall.

8am-ish Sunday: The man who will go on to win the entire race zooms past me wearing a speedo and an aero helmet. I'm still on my first lap of the bike; he is finishing his second.

8:48am Sunday: Starting the run, and finally starting to pass people who blew by me on the bike.

9:30am Sunday: Run past screaming fans (i.e. my parents) and cross the finish line!

10:45am Sunday: Stand on a podium for the first time since I was about 12 years old.

4:00pm Sunday: Back in the car for our 7-hour ride back to NJ. Ready to hash out the entire race with J___, who also had success. He completed the race and did not place last in his age group!

Race stats and results:

Swim1.5 ~1

Finish Time2:35:40
Overall Rank129/358
Gender Rank16/94
Age Group Rank (F25-29)2/22

Race SectionTime
J___ and me, proudly displaying our medals

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary RoadRevolutionary Road by Richard Yates
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A review by Rachel Wilch said it best: "My hunch is that this book might have really resonated for the dissatisfied housewives/businessmen who read it when it was originally published in 1961. To me, however, Revolutionary Road felt gratuitously dysfunctional and full of charaters who kept claiming they needed to "find themselves", but in fact needed to find some good therapists and a general sense of decency towards their children, their friends, and one another."

As a book about dissatisfaction with the status quo and a longing for times past, about questioning the self and the life one has chosen and is actively choosing, this book does succeed. However, in terms of providing a compelling plot, a cast of characters who are dynamic (which is crucial to any book which is not plot-driven), or even just prettily written prose, Yates fails to deliver.

Bottom line: I'd rather have seen the movie, if just to see DiCaprio play the character Frank.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 27, 2012

Why We Shouldn't Outsource Design Work

Aside from actual lack of design (which is a whole different issue), here are some messages recently received from the designers (who, as you may gather, are not from the US):
"Should I should the file you uploaded or the one you specified"
"I am not sure with our initial agreement of sending the message with an hour interval, will cause the next batch to consider as spamming."

The response I'd like to send:
"Engrish next time, pweez!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brooklyn Bridge Swim Results

If the goal of this race was to swim beneath the Brooklyn bridge (which it was), I cannot claim that I was successful. However, I did see the Brooklyn Bridge, as I swam in a huge arc between that bridge and the Manhattan Bridge.

Ultimately I was able to finish beside the final spire supporting the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side, which is where I needed to be, so here is how my performance compared to my fellow swimmers. (Lots of other people must have swum off track, as well, because my results aren't terribly unfavorable!)

Results for this race:
Race Length Finishing TimeOverall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-30)
1k 19:54 36/366 15/141 3/18

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just a Screw

It's those little life events that can really make or break a day.

Today I stayed home from work in order to await the delivery of my bike. (The short story behind this is that I went on vacation last week to a rural area where there would be no traffic and no hills, so I shipped my bike there in order to get some riding in before my triathlon at the end of this month. What gets shipped out must get shipped back, and a $1300 bicycle isn't something I wanted sitting out on my front stoop all day long--so I had to stay home and wait.)

FedEx policy is to deliver between 10am and 6pm, so I knew the bike could arrive literally anytime during those hours. However, the previous pickups and drop-offs had all happened before 1pm, so I was hoping that the timing would be the sam this time.

Alas, it was not to be. The bike finally arrived around 3pm, at which point I dragged the thing up to my apartment and began reassembling it immediately.

Now, the bike was originally packed by someone much more knowledgable and experienced than myself, and although I was able to reassemble the contraption when I arrived at my vacation destination, I then had to repack it into its box after only having watched the disassembling process once. To my own credit (and that of the equally unexperienced people assisting me) we got the bicycle apart and into the box successfully. The question was: had we packed it securely enough to keep it from being damaged in transit?

From what I could tell as I took pieces out of the box, it had arrived in good shape. I encountered a few snafus as I put it back together (screwing the handlebars on backward, for instance), but nothing major . . . until I went to screw in the seat post. There was no screw to screw.

Again, to my own credit, I didn't panic. (Which is surprising for someone who stresses out frequently about minute details.) I collected my wallet and prepared to go out to the local bike shop and try to buy a replacement screw. However, I had an empty bike box taking up most of my living room, so I decided to take that down to the trash first. As I carried it down the steps, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice if the screw fell out right on my doorstep?"

When I got outside, I took a look around, but the screw was nowhere to be found. I stomped the box apart and began to head back into the apartment when I saw some clumps of pet hair littering the hallway. "T___ won't be happy with me if he comes by and sees this," I thought to myself, so I stopped and grabbed the dustpan. I began sweeping with the broom, and lo and behold, there was the screw!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Growing Up Special

Our parents told us we could be anything. And our teachers. And our coaches. They all promised us that if we tried a little harder, put in a little more work, we could be something special. They assured us that we were innately special, and all we needed was to develop that potential.

Yet, our specialness was not specific—it applied to whatever we might want to do. “Follow your dreams,” we were told. “Do what you love—the rest will follow.” They encouraged us to choose our electives based on interest, to choose our majors based on passion. They prodded us to go faster and farther not by debasing us and saying we weren’t good enough, but by promising that if we improved just a little more, we could maybe prove our specialness.

We were told over and over again that we were smart. Talented. We were told we had potential, were perhaps destined for greatness. And that is what we believed. We believed if we put in enough effort, we would get somewhere.

We thought that our successes would grow exponentially: our hard work to “be someone” in high school would transfer to “being someone” in college. Then, if we worked hard in college, we would be hired for the job we wanted. When we worked hard at that job, we would then be recognized, and we would continue to achieve because we had potential to be superior, to be important and known. If we just worked hard enough, we would make a difference. We would matter.


The reality is that the further into adulthood we venture, the bigger the world gets. We might be someone in high school. We might be someone in college. We might even be someone at our companies. But what we didn’t realize until we made it out on your own, with no parents and teachers and coaches to reassure us that we are special, is that we are replaceable.

When we graduated high school, those niches we filled were filled by someone else. Maybe we were the smartest, or the prettiest, or the funniest. Maybe we were the most athletic or the best public speaker. But those superlatives are in every yearbook, with new faces under the title each year. Our faces are long gone.

When we graduated college, those papers we wrote were filed away with thousands of papers from thousands of students who came before us, and will be covered with thousands of papers from students who will come after us.

And now here we are: big, important Adults in the big grown-up workforce. Maybe we’re good at our jobs; maybe we’re excellent. Some of us might be promoted quickly, and our bosses might love us. We work hard, so why wouldn’t they love us?

Still, the undeniable truth is that we are one cog out of hundreds, thousands that comprise the huge, grinding gears of a company. We fit a certain mold. We are replaceable. The company doesn’t care about our “specialness.” Maybe, when we are gone, a few coworkers will miss us, but not for the outstanding, irreplaceable work we did. Not for the hundreds of hours we spent in front of a computer monitor, typing at a keyboard and clicking a mouse. No one will miss us for that.

We grow up thinking that we will do something lasting, something that matters. We grow up thinking we will do something that makes others proud. We think we will make ourselves proud. But then we are confronted with the harsh reality that is adulthood, with its health insurance and its mortgages, its rent checks and its credit card payments. We find out that the only people who are remembered are the Steve Jobs and Michael Phelps of the world, and even their legacies fade once someone comes along and invents something better or sets the new world record.

So we are left wondering, what was it that made us so special? Were we just surrounded by a bunch of inferior people up until now? Were our parents and teachers and coaches completely blind? Are we now failing to live up to our childhood potential, or are we finally recognizing that no such potential existed in the first place?

And of course, the ultimate question: if we don’t achieve anything special, can we still be happy?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lime Green Sneakers

On May 24th, I posted the first of two short prose pieces I wrote at a New York Writers Coalition workshop. I promised that the second piece would go up on the blog at some point, so here it is. Again, it's nothing polished, but for a piece written in 15 minutes, I'm satisfied.

The second prompt was to take something we heard while we were all sharing our first pieces and to use that, somehow, in our second piece. I chose the image of lime green shoes. Here is what I wrote:

His sneakers were the giveaway, how I knew he was cool. Lime green. With yellow laces.

Otherwise, he looked perfectly normal: stonewashed jeans, plaid shirt, silver watch (although he wore it with the face turned inside, so it rested against the inside of his wrist . . . but I didn't notice that until later).

I had never dated a non-Jewish guy. A "goy" as my sister would say. For a while I just figured non-Jewish guys weren't into me; after all, it takes a pretty mature guy to date a girl who won't wear short sleeves or pants. And let's face it: how many mature sixteen year old non-Jewish guys are there?

With Kevin, though, I couldn't pretend he wasn't into me. He put notes in my locker and told all my friends. He sent me flowers, and left me chocolates on Valentine's Day. It was kind of intimidating. But like I said, he wasn't Jewish. Which is why I turned him down. The first time.

The second time, I think I was just intimidated. Intimidated by those shoes, intimidated by the three friends standing behind him and the two standing behind me. I guess I just wimped out, because at that point, I really did want to try it, try dating this non-Jewish boy. Kevin.

And then, finally, we were on a date. By accident. Sort of.

His friends went to Applebee's the same night as my friends went to Applebees, and we all ended up at back-to-back booths. And then the boys started coming over, and stealing nachos, and licking the salt off of their fingers, and drinking right out of our straws. Mara and Caitlyn chased them back to their booth, but of course they had to linger, and steal a chicken wing just to "get back at them," and dip it in ranch dressing, once, twice, bitten part and all. Tammy and I were left alone at our table, crunching ice from our empty Cokes and wiping up chip fragments with the pads of our fingers. Then Tammy went to the bathroom, and the next thing I knew, Kevin was there, sliding into the booth next to me. He stopped about a foot away, and then inched closer and closer until his thigh almost touched mine.

"Why won't you go out with me?" his voice vibrated against my ear. I stared at my lap and saw a flash of lime green beneath the table.

"Just once," I told him. "We can go out one time. And you have to meet my mother first."

That's how it began, this affair with a non-Jewish boy. Kevin.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Seat Smushing: A Not-so-great Way to Start the Morning

I would like to claim that I am a tolerant person. In fact, in most circumstances, I think I am very tolerant (some examples being when R___ doesn't do the dishes as promised, when my dad loudly reads out the prices of thousand-dollar dresses in Bergdorf Goodman, etc.). However, I do have an unfortunate bias against people who do things that I consider inconsiderate.

One such inconsiderate action is when over-sized people take up more than their fair share of a row of seats. Locals where this occurs include airplane seats, bus seats, and--as happened today--subway seats. Maybe if the woman who sat down beside me today had done so in the afternoon, rather than at 6am this morning, I would have felt more genial. However, when she sat down and her body spilled halfway over into my seat, wedging me up against the nearly-as-hefty man sitting on my left, my internal reaction was not very cordial. If you are too large to fit in one seat, lady, you should probably stand until you can. Like I said, not nice. Fortunately, I know better than to voice my thoughts in these situations.

Of course, I also have a healthy guilt complex, so I now need to spend the rest of my day trying to make up for having such evil thoughts toward a fellow human being. Therefore, if you want a smile and a kind word, now is the time to come and see me!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Post Nav-E Sink or Swim - Ironman Thoughts

The day was gorgeous, the water was perfect, and the company was grand (thanks P___ and A___!). I could not have asked for better conditions than these for last Sunday's 2.4 mile Nav-E Sink or Swim. Granted one woman tried to drown me at the beginning of the race and another tried to drown me at the end (which, I must add, is bad form: at the beginning it is acceptable because of the crowded start conditions; at the end there's no reason to swim so close to someone else that you're whacking and yanking at their limbs). Still, I prevailed, and actually managed to enjoy the swim a good deal.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I seriously contemplated whether, when I emerged from the water, I theoretically had enough energy to get on a bicycle. After all, I was swimming amongst a whole slew of triathletes--as was made apparent by the literal sea of wetsuits, which "pure" swimmers would not wear--and I had just completed the full swim portion of an Ironman. Was 112 miles on a bicycle after that swim so out of the question?
In a word, yes.
Certainly, I wasn't exhausted. In fact, if it were just a marathon I would have to run, I would consider it within the very close realm of possibility. However, riding merely 40 miles on bicycle exhausts me. The thought of 112--with or without a swim beforehand--seems almost unachievable. Except, of course, for the fact that plenty of other people can ride that distance . . . and then run a marathon afterward, no less.
So I am not completely ruling out the possibility of someday competing in an Ironman race. First however, I'll finish the Pittsburgh Olympic Triathlon this summer, and then we'll see what's what.
Results for this race:
Race Length Finishing Time 1.2 mile splits Average Pace Overall Place Age Group Place (F25-29)
2.4 miles 1:01:09 31:11.2 / 29:57.8 24:58/mile 52/262 5/7

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to Stoke a Girl's Ego

I am on the E train, heading up from Fulton Street to 14th (then transferring to the L to Union Square). I'm frustrated, because my initial plan had been to take the 4 train straight to Union Square; then I arrived at the Fulton Street station to find the uptown track for the 4 train closed.

I've just taken a book from my bag and opened it to the bookmarked page when the woman sitting in the seat in front of where I am standing leans forward and opens her mouth as if she wishes to say something. I bend over to hear her better.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," I reply, assuming she's about to ask me for directions or, perhaps, something about the book I've just pulled out.

"Do you model?"

Thank you, universe. My day is now complete.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Poignant Quotes from "A Life Without Limits"

Several sections of Chrissie Wellington's memoir A Life Without Limits really spoke to me. While I am in no way the same as her, several of her descriptions of her mentality or tendencies at certain points in her life closely match my own. Whether or not that bodes well for my ambition of one day competing in an Ironman race, I have no idea, but in the meantime, here are a few quotes that really rang true to me:
How I feel every single day: “When you are lying on your deathbed, you don’t wish for more time in front of a computer.”
How I used to feel every time I raced one particular girl on the summer swim team, regardless of the fact that she swam on a year-round club team while I tap danced and took piano lessons:

I had to beat her, and every time I didn’t it made me seethe. Naomi was very driven too, but for her it was about improving herself; for me, it was about improving myself and beating everyone else.

A mentality I also struggle against: I have an illogical conception of what weakness is. If I lose a race, that is weakness; if I have a bad training session, that is weakness. For me, anything short of perfection is weakness.
How I often feel during a race, especially if it is going well:

Surreal is the word. During a race, I feel as if I’m in a kind of bubble—it’s as if I’m swimming underwater. I can see and hear all this pandemonium—helicopters, cameras, media and spectators jumping up and down—but it also feels as if it is happening just slightly somewhere else and to somebody else.

The way I try to look at the challenges of a scary race or a hard training schedule:

The interface between the conservative and ambitious impulses in the brain should be a front of continual struggle. And remembering the pain of previous sessions or races we have successfully endured gives us the confidence to go through it again, and the evidence to present to the brain that we are capable of handling it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: A Life Without Limits

A Life Without Limits: A World Champion's JourneyA Life Without Limits: A World Champion's Journey by Chrissie Wellington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considered within the category of "inspiring memoirs by athletes," this definitely ranks among the best. (Unsurprising, considering that it is written by a woman who is admittedly driven to be "the best at everything.") Chrissie's story of Muppet-to-World Champion is made believable relatable and even, to some degree, relatable, by the self-reflective nature of her writing. It was an excellent choice for her to have written the book autobiographically, rather than allowing someone else--even someone who is a better storyteller--to tell her story for her. The pictures are an ideal companion to the narration (although I sincerely wish there were more of them, since her life goes through so many stages that remain visually undocumented), and the story begins and ends exactly where it needs to. Chrissie picked a perfection point in life to write this book.

All of this being said, I must admit that I am not the ideal reviewer for this book. As an amateur, even beginner triathlete, I know enough about the sport to recognize some elements Chrissie left out of her story, but not enough to give an ideal critique of the elements she did share. I will express my displeasure at her neglecting to mention the crucial elements of "form" in her "The Life of a Triathlete" chapter, where she details her weekly schedule, how not to recover from an injury, and other how-to pieces of advice and information that are of particular interest to triathletes. When she describes her races, she often mentions the points at which her form "breaks down" due to fatigue, pain, etc., but she never mentions the steps she and/or her coaches took to develop that form in the first place. If she is going to spend any part of the book telling athletes what to do or not do, I think advising them to learn proper form is one essential part that she left out. (And again, I must admit this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sort of criticism, because I do not spend nearly enough time developing my own form in swimming/running/biking! But then again, I'm also not attempting ironman distances, either.)

Also, while I deeply admire the raw talent and determination that earned her entry to the elite level of triathlon in the first place, I am skeptical of her sparse account of acquiring her first bike and any/all issues she had with learning to use it. From everything I have learned about cycling, fit is a crucial component, and simply "going out and picking up a second-hand bike" strikes me as a very risky and inadvisable way to go about entering the sport. I speak from experience here, because I am still pounding out on a bike that doesn't fit me ideally, and I'm paying the price for it with "niggles," sore body parts, and numb feet. And that's not even riding more than 40 miles at a clip!

Lastly, while I personally find Chrissie's to be a very inspiring story, it's hard for me to tell whether it would be equally inspiring to someone who doesn't train or compete in the sport of triathlon. I read Andre Agassi's memoir Open with unbridled fascination, having picked up a tennis racket only a handful of times in my entire life. I'm not sure if a non-triathlete would read Chrissie's memoir with equal interest or enthusiasm. But that does not stop it from being a wonderful, uplifting, well told story.

Now it's time for me to go out and do a brick workout before I lose my motivation!

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Five Words That Are Not In The Dictionary

Last Friday, I went to a free creative writing workshop, run by the New York Writers Coalition. It was a really neat event: about 25 people met at the Station Island Ferry terminal down near Battery Park. We were all given notepads, picked writing prompts out of a canvas bag, and boarded the ferry. Then, we all sat silently and wrote for the 10-15 minute ferry ride. When we reached Staten Island, we debarked, split into small groups of 4 or 5 people, and read our pieces to one another, giving one positive comment to each writer. Then, we reconvened in the Staten Island terminal, received our second prompt, and repeated the process (boarding the ferry, writing on the ride back, and sharing our pieces in small groups back in the Manhattan terminal).

It has been a very, very long time since I wrote anything purely fictional, and even longer since I wrote a timed fictional piece based on a prompt. I was wary going into the whole experience (would I be able to come up with any ideas? would I be able to find the right words?), but it turned out better than I could have hoped.

The feedback I received was so positive, in fact, that I decided to share the pieces I wrote here, on my blog. They are certainly not polished, nor are they complete, but I'm proud to finally have written something--anything--after such a long writing drought. And, of course, I have always loved writing for (and reading to) an audience.

My first prompt was: Write using give words that are not in the dictionary. Here is what I wrote.

"Katie, it's time to get up."

The bundle of sheets squirmed and then grew still again.

"No Katie, get out of the bed. It's time to go to church."

"Nooooo," came the high pitched whine. "Mommy, I can't."

"Yes you can." Laura leaned over the bed and tugged down the blanket, revealing two bright blue eyes and an impish smile that her daughter quickly contorted into a grimace.

"I can't, Mommy, I can't!"

Despite the protests, Laura tucked one arm under her daughter's body and scooted her toward the edge of the bed.

"Yes you can. Look, I laid out your pretty yellow sundress and your favorite pink shoes."

"But Mommy, I can't wear them!"

Laura started to peel back the blankets further, but Katie yanked the blanket from her grip.

"Mommy, don't!" She pulled the blanket up under her chin, protectively. "You'll see them!"

Laura tried not to sigh. "See what? Why can't you get up and put your clothing on? You know it's Sunday. On Sundays, we get up and get dressed for church."

"Because of them." Katie stared at her mother imploringly.

"Because of who?"

"The honk monsters!"

"The . . . honk monsters." Laura tried not to smile. "And what exactly are these honk monsters doing to keep you from getting ready for church?"

"They nommed my toesies."

Laughter bubbled up inside Laura's throat, and she gave an unconvincing cough. Katie continued to stare at her mother in horror.

They did, Mommy. My toesies are gone!"

When she had finally composed herself, Laura turned to fully face her daughter.

"Daddy is the only one who can nom your toesies, Katie. Remember?"

Katie shook her head.

"It's true," Laura said. "It is. Look what happens when I do it." Gingerly, she unwrapped one of Katie's feet from the blanket and then, bending over, she hovered her mouth right above Katie's toes.

"Ahhhh-nom-nom-nom. Ahhhh-nom-nom-nom."

Then she stood up and shrugged helplessly.

"See? Your toes are still right there. It didn't work."

Katie shook her head. "That's because you didn't do it right. Only Daddy does it right." With that, she began to unwind herself from the sheet. Then, suddenly, she stopped.

"But . . . the honk monsters. What if they come back?"

"No," Laura assured her. "They won't come back. Honk monsters are afraid of shunshi--I mean, sunshine.""

"Shunshine!" Katie leapt out of bed, knocking all of the sheets to the floor. "Shun-shine, shun-shine, who's afraid of shun-shine!"

Hopping from one foot to the other, she danced out of the room and down the hallway toward the bathroom. Laura sank down onto the bed and leaned over to pick the sheet off the floor. From there, she heard the bathroom door open and the rumble of her husband's voice.

"Turble burble, where's my little purble gurble?"

Katie squealed, and the bathroom door slammed shut again.

Shunshine, Laura thought. Banishing honk monsters for my purble gurble.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How To Squash a Swimmer's Ego in Fewer than Five Words

"Are you a triathlete?"
-Asked of me this morning, by a very fast swimmer who my friends and I have dubbed "Colgate" for the cap he wears.
Not getting the joke? The title of this forum is all the explanation you need.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Personal Best! Brooklyn Half Marathon 2012

In spite of the perfect morning, flat course, and added benefit of having two of my favorite workout buddies racing with me, I struggled a lot throughout the Brooklyn Half Marathon. From mile 1 through 6, I really just didn't want to be there, running, at all. I kept trying to get myself excited, but I just wasn't. I didn't feel tired or sore; I simply wasn't happy to be running.

Then, right around mile 6 or 7, something finally clicked, and my body started running without me. I love that feeling: the "autopilot," where my mind flits from one thought to another, not quite cognizant of what my body is doing until I focus my concentration, only to realize that my legs are moving in a perfect rhythm without my really willing them to move at all.

Everything was going great until I hit mile 10. Just as I saw the mile marker, a twinge of pain hit my leg, just outside my right knee, and continued to do so every time I took at step. If felt almost like my knee needed to crack, so I swung my foot upwards as if to kick my butt every few steps, but the pain did not subside. Therefore, I spent the next two miles arguing inside my head:

"Should I stop?"

"What's that going to accomplish?"

"Maybe I should stop and walk, because this pain is getting worse."

"It'll probably just hurt then, too, and you'll never be able to get yourself started running again."

"But what if it gets worse?"

"Walking will only make this last longer. That, and you'll be miserable that you walked in a race. T___ said he would never walk unless his leg was broken. You can't wimp out now."

"True, the faster I run, the faster I can get to the end and treat this leg. . . ."

"See? Just try to ignore it. I'm sure those endorphins will kick in anytime now."

So I endured the pain through the remainder of the race, even summoning a bit of energy in the last 800m to pass three more women. As a result, I ran my fastest half marathon ever (also known as a PR, or Personal Record)! (Now I just have to contend with this bizarre injury and pray it doesn't turn into anything more serious.)

Results for this race:

Race Length Finishing Time Average Pace Overall Place Gender Place Age Group Place (F25-29)
13.1 miles 1:33:17 7:08/mile 1,005/14,278 129/7,128 45/2,161

Splits from the race

5k Split 10k Split 15k Split 20k Split
0:23:00 0:45:40 1:07:33 1:28:56

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Suggestion for Coping

This was recommended to me by my darling baby bugga-boo, when I complained about having had to stay at work until after 7pm. Not exactly prime advice for getting ahead, but hey, it would be amusing.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why We Should Have Stuck with Snail Mail

I left work last Friday like this:

I took today off to see this:

I took a sneak preview of my email tonight, only to be caught in this:

Tomorrow is not going to be fun.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Room for Dessert

At a restaurant, a mother and her 8-year old daughter are sitting at a nearby table, finishing their dinner.

MOTHER: Are you going to finish your rice?

DAUGHTER: (Groaning) My tummy is so full, mommy! I can't eat another bite.

MOTHER: All right. Just wait until I call the waitress over.

(The mother motions to a nearby waitress, who approaches the table.)

WAITRESS: Are you ladies all finished?

MOTHER: Yes, I believe we are.

WAITRESS: (Setting a small menu on the corner of the table) Can I interest you in some dessert?

MOTHER: I don't think--

DAUGHTER: Ooooh mommy!

(She reaches for the menu, but her mother places a restraining hand atop it.)

MOTHER: I thought you were so full you couldn't eat another bite.

DAUGHTER: But I have another tummy, mommy. I have a second tummy for dessert!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Unfortunate Start to My Day

"Is that a man's belt you're wearing?"

-A friend, questioning my fashion choices at 8 in the morning.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The End: 21 Days of Thanks

Lumping the final 3 days together is not really the best way to finish off my experiment, but on a positive note, I made it through with only 3 slip-ups! Here are my 3x thanks for Days 19, 20, and 21.

  • A guest appearance on K___'s blog. It's about her family (as is somewhat evident from the title OkMom&Dad), but I was tickled to show up in two posts about her brother, "Taboo" and "Yin."

  • Successfully finding Takoma Pool. With my unfortunately poor sense of direction and lack of smartphone, this admittedly took me over an hour; however, on the plus side, I did manage to correctly navigate the metro system (i.e. get off at the right stop), and it was a lovely day to be wandering around the suburban streets of Takoma. Plus, I'm getting less and less shy about stopping strangers to ask for directions!

  • My train was on time. It left on time and arrived on time. I can only hope that my flight tomorrow will be as smooth!

  • Seeing L___ the night I arrived. Seeing her upon arriving in a still-unfamiliar city is the best sort of welcome!

  • Seeing K2 and meeting her friends during the same work trip. It's so nice that my friends take time out of their schedules to see me when I am in town. It makes these work trips that much more fun!

  • The fact that I can give tasks to a shared assistant while I am away from the office, and he capably and confidently completes them. N___ is such a lifesaver; I don't know how we functioned before without him.

  • Meeting friendly work colleagues who make enjoyable and interesting dinner partners while travelling. I don't know how people can work for companies where they don't like any of their coworkers. Life would be miserable!

  • Being remembered by customers from my old paper route. A few ladies passed by my parents' house and, when they saw my parents outside, stopped them to ask how I was doing. One of them even mentioned the Christmas letter I used to write and include in the paper once a year. I am really touched that she appreciated them enough to remember them, even this many years later.

  • The opportunity to go to San Diego tomorrow! I'll probably only have a couple half-days to do any sightseeing, but it's a nice break to get out of the office and see another area of the country.

    And that, folks, is it! Hopefully I've become less grouchy in the past 21 days, and while I can guarantee that I'll never stop complaining completely, hopefully this exercise has helped me tone it down a bit and become a more pleasant, positive person.

  • Monday, April 16, 2012

    Eek! 3-Day Catch-up

    I was terribly lax over this past weekend, so here are Days 16, 17, and 18.

  • A casual birthday potluck! Met some new game-loving friends of friends, ate some delicious food (compliments of A___, who is a great cook and hostess), and spent a much more social Sunday night than usual.

  • Train travel. It's so much roomier and more pleasant than air or bus travel, and certainly more relaxing than driving. Why did we silly Americans ever do away with 90% of our railroads?

  • My haircut. Even though it's grown out a little since I got it cut, it is still at a great length: makes a small ponytail, dries fairly quickly, and doesn't take more than 30 minutes to blow-dry and straighten.

  • The chance to see M___ and L___ get married! It was a beautiful day for a beautiful wedding between two beautiful friends. And also . . .

  • An excuse to dress up. Because let's face it: after high school prom, how many dress-up events are there?

  • A boyfriend who likes to match my outfit. I would never require this, but it does look nice, so it's especially gratifying that he does this on his own!

  • R___'s mom. At the risk of sounding like a suck-up, I have to say that she's generous and kind, and this past weekend gladly answered my question about wedding gifts in (lieu of my parents, who were MIA). It's so nice to have another adult I can depend upon . . . plus she makes really scrumptious cookies.

  • The fact that my iPod hasn't died yet. I am pretty sure its life has exceeded 2 years now, which is more than I had hoped for, so hopefully my gratefulness won't jinx it.

  • Netflix! Whoever came up with the idea of a subscription movie/tv service is a genius (and probably being rewarded accordingly). It's hard to believe that I went so many years without television . . . until I try to actually watch cable TV. Those are the moments when gratitude for Netflix overwhelms me.
  • Friday, April 13, 2012

    Day 15, TGIF

    It's Friday the 13th, but Day 15 of my 3x thanks experiment.

  • Central Park in the spring is beautiful! And full of very interesting people to watch on a long run.

  • Swimming 400 yards in less than 5 minutes and 30 seconds. That means my 100 yard pace times were below 1:25!

  • My boyfriend's enormous 46" HD TV. I would never have admitted it a year ago, but it really does make watching television and movies a much nicer experience. My little Macbook just cannot compete.
  • Thursday, April 12, 2012

    Day 14, Simple Pleasures

    Sometimes I just wish this experiment was over! But I can't give up now. Only 7 days left after today (Day 14). . . .

  • When the subway shows up immediately after I arrive at my stop. Specifically, I am referring to the PATH train, which arrived almost immediately after I arrived at the station this morning, when I was heading to work. Then, when I transferred, that train arrived quickly too! A nice, smooth commute to work--just the way I like it.

  • Knowing people around the country, so that when I travel for work, I can visit them. Next week I get to visit two friends while attending a conference in DC, and although I don't know anyone in San Diego, I connected with a friend who moved to San Francisco, and she's giving me the "inside scoop" on what to check out when I visit that city in June! (Even better, she's a swimmer, so she can tell me where all the pools are located. Essential advice for a swimmer way from home!)

  • Photographs. I feel so sorry for people who lived before the age of photography. Not even digital photography, necessarily, but at the very least pictures to capture who you are and who you are with at a given time, in a given place. Looking at photographs is like looking backwards in time (a day, a month, a year), and looking at other people's photographs is like reading an intimate story of their lives. I am grateful that a friend shared his familiy vacation photos with me today!