August 24, 2014

I wish I could tell you any story except the one about my crippling sadness. the story of a summer spent uselessly trying to rehabilitate a car I never should have bought, that never should have been sold; of endlessly waiting for the bus; of sitting inside looking outside and feeling restless and trapped and frightened of all the time passing with no purpose. of earning more money on paper but being poorer than I have been in some years, despite having spent almost nothing on myself in months, save for groceries. about breaking off my relationship not once but twice, after both of us were too sad to make it stick the first time: a rift that seems to grow more painful rather than less, with each day unraveling the tie that binds us just a little more and a little more. I can't help but watch my alternate life go by, the one in which I managed to leave here last winter for bluer skies; the one in which I wake up next to my boyfriend in the house we talked of buying in the deep south. in that life, I would have fewer belongings, but also fewer fears that I may never pull my head above water, may never stay in love, may never move on to the step with children and dogs and a porch of my own.

or maybe in that alternate life I am in a far away state surrounded by people who don't want me to have birth control and I've gained a lot of weight from eating too much barbecue. who can say.

there's no other story except the one where I am so low that I struggle even to recognize the smallest of victories (the work successes, the 235 straight days of running, the rekindled friendship, the still being alive). at one point my car didn't run and my debit card number had been stolen so I was without transportation and without money: a momentary taste of what life is like in a completely different social class. I leave the headlights on one day and kill the battery. I go out with friends and it is so good to see them, but they are both pregnant and I feel as though I might as well be visiting from mars. at the company picnic I'm one of a tiny minority of people without a spouse, without toddlers.

I get catcalled on my runs and without hesitation I give those men the finger, angry at being an object, angry at being less-than, angry that we live in a time when this bullshit is all still here and we are still fighting to be seen as legitimate despite having vaginas. angry that after 235 days I'm still not running much at all, because I'm constantly battling one pain or another, pre-injuries that move from muscle to muscle without mercy. the alternative -- not running -- is not thinkable. some days the streak feels as much like a real, tangible friend as my real, tangible friends. one of the few constant, dependable things in my life.

I am lonely, and afraid of dying, afraid that every day I have to keep struggling to carry this monster in my muddled brain is another day of my life I didn't really get to live. it occurs to me to get a therapist but I don't know where the money would come from. I know by now that this is not how most people feel every day, but the knowledge doesn't throw me a ladder with which to climb out.

I'd like to tell you a story about a summer spent driving around oregon, camping on the weekends, or hiking, or swimming in a river. or even just of eating ice cream in cute shorts with a girlfriend, riding my bike, running long trails. I'd like to say I was tan and sometimes sandy and sometimes dirty, that I'd seen the asphalt of so many roads, that I was that good, satisfied kind of tired and ready for soup and rain. that I figured out a way to make this sweetest of romances work. maybe next year.

July 5, 2014

mike came and went. we ate tacos and watched battlestar galactica and drank beers and walked up and down the coast and watched people fly kites and went letterboxing and hiked and had a picnic. we hung out downtown. we played pinball. we went to a concert. now he is gone, and there is no clear path forward. there is no certainty that he will ever be back. he lives in alabama, I live in portland. it has always been this way -- but for awhile I was going to live in alabama, too. now all bets are off. he's asked if he can be called my 'boyfriend emeritus,' because neither of us can say 'ex.'

I have done a lot of walking back and forth through my apartment in the last two days, picking things up and putting them down again, or wiping a counter, or sitting down to do something and then forgetting what the something is. we are still in love. we have made this choice together. we still say good morning and goodnight. alabama/oregon. financial security/love. known/unknown. I do not know which way is up.

sometimes I look around at people at the lake with their kids, or drinking beers out on a patio, or doing work, and I really wonder if everyone else is having a hard time, too, or if there's something particular to my wiring. because I can look outside and see that the sky is beautiful, but I still feel lost.

I have a mental list of things that seem like they would make me much happier, even when I know that "if only I had X, I'd be happy" is a sure path to disappointment. the list:

• a backyard
• ...with a hammock, or at least lawn furniture
• a reliable car (my new one isn't quite there yet)
• a porch
• a family, or at least the trajectory towards one
• an occasional camping trip
• maybe a dog
• about half the debt I have

I live in fear that life is passing me by, but still get stuck, as I did today, by some unseen and unknowable force. indecision, or laziness, or inertia, or fear, or something else entirely. instead of leaving the house, I stand at the bathroom mirror and pluck the gray out of my hair.

I get up and pack my lunch and go to work and appear competent and crack jokes with coworkers and go for runs and drink with friends and lie in bed watching cartoons and through it all I still live in holy terror that I am missing something. fear of missing out.

at work I go to lunch with some colleagues and they all sit around talking about their kids, and I feel like I've been accidentally invited to a meeting for which I do not have the skill set.

I don't have the answers to anything. does anyone? that is a real question.

a curious thing about me: sitting heavy in my sadness, I tried to think up things I could do now that I'm single. I couldn't come up with much; mike is sweet and supportive and fun. but what I did think was, 'well, I guess now I can go back to turning myself into a ninja.' which is to say, now I can become a different thing: learn spanish or rock climbing or poker. I looked straight at that and thought, well, there's your problem. because the only thing stopping me from doing those things as a girlfriend is some strange wall in my own mind. what is that wall? why do I do that? if you know something and I want to learn it, I'd still rather teach myself in secret and at great expense than ask you to teach me. because then I wouldn't be an impenetrable force.

mike and I went rock climbing when I was last in birmingham. he frequents the climbing gym but I had never been before. I was absolutely closed to the idea of having anyone see me fall off the wall. far better climbers than me -- that is to say, climbers, in any capacity -- were falling off the wall at regular intervals. it is how you learn. I know this in my thought brain. but my other dumb brain was like, 'nope.' I had told mike going in that being seen while not knowing something is one of my biggest irrational fears. he couldn't have been more patient with me. I did climb the wall a few times. I never would have gone alone.

I don't know anything about anything.

lately I often find myself reading something and thinking, "I write better than this," which is a thing you are not allowed to say if you don't really do much writing anymore.

June 24, 2014

day 175

what you learn when you run 175 days in a row:

- if you run in minimalist shoes long enough, 'regular' shoes feel so flipping heavy
- you can subsist on two sports bras as long as you have a washer/dryer in your apartment
- it takes about 150 days to see any sort of significant improvement in speed, or at least it does when you've more or less spent the last two years not running
- you can only run the same loops around your neighborhood so many times before they are so ungodly boring
- trail running > road running by a factor of like, nine million, which is inconvenient given my distance from most trails
- running in new neighborhoods is at least better than running in your own dumb neighborhood
- there are never enough shoes

things that will happen to you in 175 days:
- everything will take turns hurting
- things will also mysteriously stop hurting, which is nice but also kind of unhelpful, since ... where did it come from and why is it gone?
- you will end up dropping out of some races (recently: the bowerman 5K, the pine hollow triathlon) because you value the streak over the racing and because maybe you have a stress fracture? but you don't actually know because you're in health insurance limbo for a few weeks?
- you will wrap your maybe-stress-fractured leg and run on it anyway, which you will find strangely aesthetically pleasing, much in the same way you found crutches appealing when you were in the third grade.
- you will accidentally run into some sort of stinging insect with your leg and get stung and it will itch right at your sock line for over two weeks
- the day after this occurs, you will have a bug fly into your eye and get stuck there
- somehow you will reach this point without having yet eaten a bug, which is some sort of record

June 22, 2014

I am thinking of that year at the beach where we rode our bikes, in bikinis, barefoot, to the canal side of the island, where giant new houses were under construction, and we stood gaping for so long at one house that the construction workers offered to let us in. the house was almost totally complete, including the decorating; two stories, with all the communal spaces on the second floor, where one could take in the view. the view: canal, rooftops, ocean. the bathroom is what I recall best, for its beachiness: everything pale blue and tan, the colors of the sea.

there was also an elevator, and a pool, and so many bedrooms. all I remember is being in awe, and coming back to our own house chattering about the space. this was not so many years ago.

I will miss the beach this year, as last year, an effect of accepting a new job. it was a thing I thought I would be okay living without, until I am here, now, living without it. summer is once again late to portland, and I find myself chomping at the bit, looking at pinterest boards full of women in bikinis covered in sand. all I want in life is heat and humidity, my hair raggedy from salt water, my legs covered in sand.

I am proud of my three weeks away from this town. desert, road trip, beach town, home town, alabama. I didn't tell you about the rest of it -- it turned out to be easier to type on my phone's tiny screen than on a computer, I don't know either -- so I will tell you now that I ran my favorite trails in maryland, and ate snowballs, and had brunch with my high school girlfriends, and then I went to alabama, where I ate barbecue and went to a ball game but mostly kind of just sat around in my boyfriend's house reading magazines and watching cartoons.

the california part of the trip was my favorite part, largely because I was rarely in one place for more than a day or two, and also because it was foreign to me and therefore more interesting.

I returned to portland and started this new job, and am still acclimating to having a job where I get to come home every night forever. where I never have to work a weekend. I am still very much a guard dog of my personal time as a result of never having any. I hope this passes.

I also bought a car. which reminds me: I spent several months without a car. the front suspension in my car, my 12-year-old ford escort, bought for me by my parents my senior year of college, got wobbly and weird and I stopped driving it on april 3. after a great deal of hand-wringing and crying (I associated it very closely with my stepfather, who always did all of my car work and who, of course, passed away tragically too soon 8 years ago), I donated it to portland rescue mission. I didn't have the money to replace it so I walked or ran or biked or rode the bus everywhere for a couple of months. but with summer approaching and no plans and a larger paycheck I absolutely could not stand the thought of being even longer separated from my horse (or the rest of oregon) so I dropped $2K on a 23-year-old honda civic last weekend.

this summer I have all these goals, most of them serving to hypothetically fill the (quite un-fillable) gap of the ocean. I want to camp and hike and go to the coast and ride my bike and have picnics and fly kites and do yoga and get strong and sleep with the fan on and eat popsicles. sometimes I am quite certain, despite this very cushy new job, that I need desperately to live somewhere where it's mostly perpetually summer because oh god in heaven, all I want in life is ice cream that drips down my wrist, and sparklers and smores and bathing suits and swimming and sweating and heat and oh, oregon. help me out.

let's just say now, for the record, that I am intensely grateful that the barn owner talked me out of selling cookie. it was so good to ride; to be in the dirt, to run fast, to be covered in both my own sweat and hers; to stand in the sun for an hour hanging out while she grazed. all I want in my life is to be dirty and outside.

June 3, 2014


the woods in maryland smell totally different than the woods in portland: like honeysuckle and pepper, damp from the humidity. on my first day home I run down the back roads near my mom's house and by the time I come back I have sweat dripping from the end of my braid. the sun is beating down and the air seems to be trying to stuff a wet rag down my throat.

it's pretty great. welcome home.


the dog is stiffer with age, the fat cat is fatter. my mom has saved the front fields for me to mow. I've flown in on a red eye and therefore haven't slept at all (I already can't sleep on planes and this is made worse by being stuck in the middle seat), but we still stop on our way from the airport to have lunch with my two aunts. there are birthday cupcakes.

on my birthday it's cold -- 52 -- and rainy. plans to go paddleboating in the harbor downtown are scrapped in favor of a decadent brunch at miss shirley's, where we order, in addition to our own breakfasts, an extra plate of jalapeno bacon cinnamon rolls. my mom buys me shoes and then we pick my brother up from school and head to cold stone to get a cake. "do you want something written on it?" the girl asks, and we blurt out "...happy birthday, jessica?" since none of us has even thought about it. I immediately regret not having the cake read "DANG GIRL" but short of having the text scraped off and rewritten, it's too late.

at home I fall asleep on the couch because I'm 33 now so I guess my transition to grandma is complete. it's 3:30 in the afternoon.

we drop my sister at 4H and then go with my brother to boy scouts, where it is election night. we listen to a series of adorably awkward speeches. my brother's friends are all amazed to meet me, the mythical older sister. my brother is elected senior patrol leader -- top dog. as they close the meeting, he gets the entire troop to sing me happy birthday. it's my first birthday at home in 13 years.


I go home and sleep for 10 hours. jet lag is a bitch, y'all.

the next day my mom and I drive down to fells point and walk around. we eat sandwiches on the water, peruse galleries, stick our heads into touristy shops, trip on the cobblestones. I miss my mom and I wish we could do this all the time. being away is hard.


I run my favorite trails. my calves hurt all the time (I need a travel-size foam roller but keep electing not to buy them. I don't know why) but it doesn't really matter; I strap on my oldest shoes and bounce down the archery trail to the ridge trail. I lament the loss of the sign we used to kiss at the top of the ridge. it had a deer on it. I make the same wrong turn I always make, and realize it at the same place I always realize it. I cross the stream three times and dunk my right foot twice. running in these woods always feels like a benediction somehow. there is love in every step. I am thinking of the boys in cross country, who used to tear through the woods and fell small trees; I am thinking of my best running friend, lindsay, whose braid was always bobbing along near me, who was always faster and smarter and who was always, always my favorite; I am thinking of mr. mig, our coach, who has just been diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer. I have his address and need to write him a letter. he used to watch me run cross country meets -- I was awful at cross country and I more or less hated it because I never figured out how to pace myself -- and he would turn to my mother and say, 'your daughter has got so much heart.' it's been 18 years since my first xc season and I still think of him, and of his faith in me, every time I race.

on the quarry trail, my sister joins me and leads the way and we talk about our running goals, about times we got in trouble, about the differences between our high school experiences. hers is much more regimented and sterile than mine was; the school is bigger, the track team is highly competitive, and everything is so busy and structured. during my track years, we'd deviate from the trail to jump in the river; we'd swim and eat mulberries from the path and get covered in mud. she just runs.

we order crabs for dinner one night. I grill chicken one night. we go out for ice cream and snowballs.

we spend one afternoon working in the yard, dragging downed branches from all over the yard, debris from this winter's many snowstorms. the grass is knee high in places (because the branches make it impossible to mow). we break it all up and saw it into pieces and burn it in the fire pit until we are too tired to move. the branches still outnumber us. I once again wish I could stay for two weeks, tell no one except my immediate family I'm home, and help my mom clean up the yard. it is clear how much easier it is to have a second adult in the house -- a second driver, a second wallet, a second cook. my mother is overwhelmed and exhausted. it never gets easier to leave.


June 2, 2014

san diego:


- entering a 5k the morning of the race, uncertain of intent: racing or running? the answer being racing, of course, always and forever. running wildly dehydrated, on legs trashed from 11 hours of driving the day before. I placed 4th in my age group, running something like 23:37, two minutes off my PR but a good showing given the circumstances. afterwards there was brunch. I love you, brunch.

- paddleboarding on mission bay again. headstands on paddleboards again. because if you can balance on your head in the middle of open water, you should.


- trying on every pair of running shoes in my size in search of the holy grail of shoes: a pair as soft and cushiony and light and flexible as the pumas I bought three years ago right before the model was discontinued. one of the girls working in the store (where my sister knows everyone and is so comfortable that she pulled the shoes from the stock room herself) told me I was looking for an impossible shoe. but she was wrong:


skechers. who knew. I guess kara goucher and meb geflegzhi are onto something?

- lounging poolside with a book, because I am real good at that skill now. I am an olympic pool sitter.

- running. obviously.

- eating ice cream. obviously.

- borrowing my sister's boyfriend's truck and driving to the beach one morning (my sister was at work) and being hit on (politely) over the course of the morning by two separate dudes. thanks, dudes.


- with the exception of ice cream, all I ate was tacos. ALL THE TACOS

- dayna and I discovered that we both eat bananas in the same weird way: naked. we take them out of their peels first. both of us have been teased about this. neither of us knew the other did it too. banana twins, y'all.

it was so good to be in california. it felt like a summer kickoff, which I suppose it was. it was good to be on the road, to be in motion, to have something new happening every day. it was good to see my sister. I hadn't visited in a year and a half. the only challenge of this trip, really (other than the part where at the beginning I had no money; that's over now) is not having enough time anywhere. I would have liked more time to camp, more time to climb things in joshua tree, more time to eat pizza with my sister, time enough to drive to santa barbara and visit cristina (I could have driven there but it would have meant some long hours of driving and, like, two hours in SB). but you either keep moving and go lots of places or you sit still. you can't really have both. at least not in just three weeks' time.

and now: the other coast.

May 25, 2014

I've discovered something over the years, in the course of my travels: if you are a lady who can in any way be perceived as "girlish," you will come across certain people who will find your solo voyaging charming and brave. such was the case at the rental car counter in palm springs, where the sweet middle aged rental agent, after hearing my plans to wander through joshua tree and to go solo camping, lowered her voice conspiratorially and said, "you know, we have a mustang convertible. I could give you the friends and family discount -- it would cost you $11 more a day than you're spending now."

"so ...$22 more? that's it?" she nods.

and that is how I end up cruising around the california desert in a 2014 convertible, listening to 90s music on the satellite radio, with a folded up tank top wrapped around my forehead to keep my face from getting too horribly sunburned. from palm springs to joshua tree, where I turn off the radio in reverent silence, and then through box canyon, my head swiveling in every direction at the rocks all around me. down country roads dotted with arid farmland, and finally to salton sea, the sea that isn't really one.

my new friend from vancouver was horrified when I told her where I was camping. "but ... you know you can't swim in it, right?" I explained that yes, I knew that the beaches were made of dead barnacles and fish bones, casualties of the increasing salinity of a body of water with no incoming rivers or streams. I knew it was speckled with ruins of buildings from a time when there were resorts all along the coastline, and that it might smell funny and wasn't very popular. I reassured her that those things were totally my bag. she did not seen convinced. in all honesty, her reaction secretly worried me a little. was I about to camp at the cali equivalent of onondaga lake -- a toxic dump that smells, well, like a toxic dump?

but she was wrong. or maybe she was right about the sea, but wrong about the camping. it smells like the ocean -- the saline level is somewhere between the pacific ocean and the great salt lake -- and it's surrounded by coastal grasses, full of the sounds of birds. The campsite is just occupied enough to make me not feel nervous, but not busy enough to be loud. herons stand gracefully at the banks; pelicans fly overhead. a nice paved path, obviously newly built, meanders through the brush for half a mile, ending at a small quiet stretch of beach. (admittedly, a beach made of dead barnacles.) in the morning I run up and down the banks and then walk over to the tiny camp store for $1 coffee. I inquire about the kayak rental sign but decline in the end -- "I've kayaked twice. will I drown?" I ask. "I've been kayaking for 25 years and I probably wouldn't go out today." okay then.

I pack up my gear and toss it into the trunk of my MUSTANG CONVERTIBLE and I slather on sunblock, put the top down, turn on the radio, and set off. it's just before 9 am. the roads are mostly empty, as is all the surrounding land. I make my first stop 8 miles down the road, at the ruins of bombay beach, formerly a little coastal hamlet. now it's something between trailer park and ghost town, some of the houses completely gutted, others very ramshackle; the occasional one has a car parked out front, which I guess means it's still lived in. there is incredible graffiti. the beach is strewn with the beams and foundations of old buildings. the skeleton of an abandoned pier is overrun with seagulls.

then I drive for a long time, realizing in amazement (because I am hungry) that this is the longest I think I've ever driven without any sign of fast food. I get preoccupied with the joy of being in a convertible in california, driving through the desert with my ponytail and my coffee, flipping between beachy tunes on the radio. I completely forget my next stop -- like, I completely forget that I am even supposed to be aiming for a next stop -- until I'm thirty miles past it. I've stopped to eat a cheeseburger when I look at my map and realize. But it's 11 in the morning and my goal is to be in san diego at 7, and that is such a hilarious amount of time to drive the distance (not even 200 miles) that of course I turn around.

salvation mountain is a huge ... art installation? building? shrine? built by a man named leonard knight after he had a vision from god. I can't really even describe it. it's paint and adobe and bales of straw and tree limbs and old telephone poles, and everything says "god loves you" or a variant thereof. it's big and colorful and weird. art cars decorated in a similar style dot the nearby landscape. behind it is slab city, a sort of hippie commune of RVs and tents, people living off the grid. you may have read about it in jon krakauer's "into the wild." the mountain is manned by volunteers (knight himself died this past february). today's caretaker is quick to offer to take your photo on the mountain the moment he spots you with a camera. when I walk back to the car I overhear him cheerfully giving directions: "so, you get to this place where there's no rail between you and the canyon, then you drive past two or three 'no trespassing' signs, and at the end you can see the whole coachella valley."

the rest of the drive is more or less comprised of trying to figure out the prettiest and most out of the way route to my destination, and then of driving through canyons on long empty snaking roads. I listen to a lot of 90s music. I drink water out of a gallon jug because my one water bottle is dirty. I stop once at a county park and hike 3 miles in my flip flops.

when I arrive at my sister's I have been driving for 10 hours and am coated in a mixture of sweat, sunblock, road grit and dirt but she hugs me anyway because she's my sister.