Wednesday, June 30, 2010

F*ck Inflation

   Very few things stress me out as much as the idea that I have to do something.  I get this idea in my head a lot.  For example, I took ten days off running in order to rest my shins, and yesterday was my first day back.  Today I came home from work going, "Okay, I really need to cross train today, maybe I should drive down to the gym right now and do some stairmaster; but I could really stand to get a nap in, so probably I should go sleep for an hour and a half and then work out and then I can shower in time for my hair appointment...."
   You get the idea.
   Sometimes I forget that I don't have to do anything.  The entire cause-and-effect relationship of getting stuff done is, rather, founded on the idea of "If/then:"  if I want this, then I must do this; but I don't absolutely have to do anything at all.  I don't have to want anything and I don't have to do the things that would get me what I want.   And in general, if I really want to be doing something, chances are I'm probably doing it already.  Chances are you'd have to drag me away from it at gunpoint, and prove to me that the thing is loaded.

    The idea "I have to" has many insipid forms that are a lot harder to recognize.  The cross-training idea was one thing, but what really got me started writing this post was the following:

    Tonight, I am going to see my friend play a show at my friendly neighborhood dive bar.  I was invited to the show on Facebook, so the guest list was available, and of course I checked it.  And it turns out that a guy that we're going to refer to as Mr. Expensive will be there.
    Mr. Expensive stresses me the f*ck out.  First of all, I think he's like an eleven on the ten scale of attractiveness (really, he's like second to James Franco), so of course anytime he's in the same room as me I'm a klutzy, dropping-stuff mess.  Secondly, he's good friends with my good friend, and I've met him like fifty times, and I'm pretty sure he still has no idea who I am.  He has never greeted me by name, doesn't appear to remember details about me, recognizes my face but avoids lengthy conversation.  I friend requested him on facebook like two years ago, and it's still pending.  As far as I can tell, to him I am, like, mousy.
     My theory on this is that Mr. Expensive likes expensive things.    Things that it requires a lot of work to acquire, or things that are so valuable that they're inherently costly.  And I think he likes expensive people, too:  people like our mutual talented friend, who puts on a hell of a show with a loop pedal and a violin; or girls who require a lot of work.  Now, I'm a lot of things, but I don't really require a lot of work.  I'm trusting, and friendly, and I tend to err on the side of too nice.  (He's wealthy and doesn't like me so I feel justified in making these assumptions.  Especially because I don't know him at all and can't get him to talk to me for more than forty seconds.  Clearly, I have insight into this man's psyche.)
     All of that is not the point.  The point is that, anytime I know Mr. Expensive is going to be in my general vicinity, I start feeling like I have to:  I have to be cool, have to look good, have to ignore him or have to talk to him, etc., etc., etc.  He sends me on an I have to rampage.
    But the fact is, no I f*cking don't.
    I don't have to do a g*ddamn thing.  I can show up wearing a lampshade and some artfully placed hedge shears if I want to.  I can pirouette around the room all night (assuming I could actually execute one of those, much less dozens, which is doubtful). I can do, quite literally, whatever I want.
    Now, if I want something particular from him, like positive, non-weirded-out attention, then of course there is a course of action that must be taken in order to attain it--but guess what?  I have no idea what it is.  I don't even know the guy.
    Unfortunately, I don't have any lampshades in my size, but I do have clothes I actually feel comfortable in, and people I enjoy talking to who will probably be there tonight.  Not to mention a pair of panties I should probably untwist.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Taking Suggestions and Gold Stars

     I'm only into, like, week three of my Quest to do one new thing almost every day, and I'm getting stuck. I blame this partly on my shin splints, because now I can't just chart a new place to run three times a week and give myself a corresponding gold star on the Quest Progress Chart. I blame it partly on the fact that these things organize themselves into categories like "new restaurants" and "new books" and "new movies" and that the categories themselves start to get old.
    But I blame this mostly on my friend-drought.

    I was pondering new restaurants to try out and realized that most of the ones I could think of were restaurants I had planned to try with a friend at some point, and never did.
    Then I thought about just how many things I have planned to do with new people in my life that we somehow never got around to, and the longer I thought about it, the more horrified I was.  I'm a person who likes to follow through on plans, and a lot of the time I do insist on completing those vague "hey, we should totally..."s.  But despite that, it's like I have a whole lifetime I never lived of the things that I intended to do with a brand new person.
Most of the new things I have intended to do were brought up because I had met someone new and we had to go through that whole "meshing-your-view-of-the-universe-with-my-view-of-the-universe" thing, which I think is the main reason meeting new people is so exciting. Meeting new people is like someone turning your house 180 degrees and then you realize just how gloomy the willow tree looked outside your living room window, and how much nicer it looks from your kitchen sink with the extra ten feet of space between it and the house. Meeting new people is not only interesting because you get to learn about someone totally different, but because you realize that they see you differently than everyone else does, too, and you also get to learn about that.
  And let's not lie:  everyone thinks their own person is the most fascinating object in existence.  I'm okay with that.  I think it's true for everyone.  I think it's the only thing you can ever hope to understand completely, but it's also a neverending Quest to attempt to do so.  And I like Quests.  They come with gold star sticker charts.

Anyway, for my own amusement, here follows an Abbreviated List of All the Things I Was Supposed to Do With Various People I Don't Really Talk To Anymore, and Never Actually Did:
--try out steak places in Phoenix until we found the valley's best steak (I should still do this)
--go back up to Sedona and check out the sushi place that's closed from 1 to 7 and is next to a tattoo parlor where all the cabinets are shaped like coffins
--open a bar in Australia
--climb Machu Picchu on New Year's Eve
--take a weekend trip to Mexico
--plan and save for a trip to India
--snowmobile up Grand Teton to a natural hot water spring and go swimming in January
--road trip up to the Pacific Northwest and/or possibly Alaska
--Hike the waterfall trail at White Tank
--Hike the Superstition trail
--get together and co-write some songs
--take horseback-riding lessons (still really want to do this)
--go hanggliding

Granted, most of these were rather long-term or expensive undertakings, but still.  Isn't my alter-existence exciting?

Any offerings as tasks on my Quest for Newness will be greatly appreciated; all the more so if they can be completed here in the Valley of the Sun.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Think I Run, I Think I Run...

I'm becoming obsessed.
I'm reading running blogs, and Runner's World magazine; I'm changing my eating habits and logging all of my workouts on  I went to bed at ten o'clock on a Friday night so I could get up to go running on Saturday before my running partner leaves for Nicaragua.   I bought athletic tape yesterday for my shin splints and read a whole bunch of articles on the various causes, and then switched to a different pair of shoes.  Then I actually used the athletic tape.  I slept in it.  That's how concerned I am about my shins.
I love the idea of me as an athlete so much.  I think I'm starting to annoy people with how much I talk about it, and I think about it even more than I talk about it.
It's really strange, because I've technically been a runner since I was about twelve, and made the high school track team, but I haven't really thought of myself as a runner until I started training for this race (the half, not the full).  I tend to take six-month hiatuses--but apparently, according to all the running blogs and articles I am now reading, that's normal, and the fact is, I always go back to running.  
I've just never felt like a runner before.

It means a lot to me right now, because I'm still in one of those friend-drought periods where a lot of my friends have moved away or we have simply fallen apart, and I'm not meeting a lot of people; training gives me something to do.  It also gives me something to learn about, and new things to read, and I'm always looking for those. 
My father used to run five miles a day, rain or shine.  There's a picture somewhere of me when I was about five stretching with him, and looking deathly serious about it, at my grandparents' lakehouse on Canandaigua LakeAnd there's another one of me in the same outfit setting out on a run with him along the (highly dangerous and trafficky) West Lake Road where he used to run every summer.  I think I made it about five hundred feet and quit, but it's still one of my favorite memories, and the stretching picture makes me laugh every time.
My father's birthday is the day before mine, and this year I asked him, "Hey, Sixty-Two, got any advice for Twenty-Four?" He said, "Exercise."  My father is not the kind of person to just throw some random advice out there, so I thought I would take him seriously.
When I was 13 I tore my ACL at soccer practice, and had to take a year off sports for surgery and an old-fashioned recovery (which I resented at the time, because other people with younger doctors were getting out in eight weeks, but when I was still busting ass on the Stairmaster and they came back in with a re-tear, I didn't mind as much).  I was desperate to run again.  It was the only thing I wanted.  And when they finally let me, six months into recovery, my mother would go rollerblading with me on the trail my town had just put in.  After our runs she would let me practice driving her stick-shift Toyota Corolla around the parking lot.  And now, anytime I come home and the weather is good, she gets out her rollerblades, and we go running. 
My grandmother was very athletic, which was something I didn't really know until after she died and everyone started telling stories.  I remember she had been very proud of me when I made the track team, and told me she used to win competitions in the standing long jump when she was in high school, but most of the time that I knew her she was limping because of a bad hip.  But apparently, when my dad and uncles were young, she used to bike to the grocery store every week, and play tennis quite often.  Dad said that it really hurt her not to be able to exercise anymore after her first hip surgery, and that while she was dying she seemed happier than she had been for years because suddenly her body didn't matter anymore.  So there is that, too.  In so many ways, running, even though I mostly do it three thousand miles away from them, connects me with my family.
Running pulled me out of a mild depression, and it got me through the misguided road trip where I went to see all of my exes, and it helped me learn how to enjoy being where I was instead of always thinking about what was coming next.  Running made me shut up and look at some trees.  I've always liked running, but I remember saying once, "I'm not a runner, I just run."
But now, I want to be a runner.

I think I could be a good runner, too.  Right now my shins hurt, and my times are atrocious, but I've never really worked hard at it. After my injury in high school I was always kind of nervous.  On top of that I was a sprinter, and my endurance sucked.  But I know a little better now what it means to work hard at something, and what kind of pain needs attention and what kind of pain is just your body's version of whining.  I know myself a little better now, and what I'm capable of, and so I'm suddenly (and a bit ridiculously) interested in being a runner, an athlete. 
So bear with me while I talk about it too much.  It's making me happy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Non-Gretchen-Rubin-esque Solution

Since my fated run with Meg, I've been trying to do at least one new thing every day, even if it's only reading a book I haven't read before.
In the last week, I have:
1. Gone to see my very first ballet
2. Called up an old friend and ended up having a super interesting conversation with his friend about the boundary line between loving someone else and hurting yourself, all while sitting in a high-rise condo in Scottsdale eating Chipotle
3. Found a new route to run for my short-run training days that I can get to from my house and which involves a lake I didn't know existed
4. Driven up to Flagstaff for a day and hiked 14 miles
(4b. Limped around and downed like 1200 mg of ibuprofen the next day--OMG I HAVE TO RUN THAT FAR?!)
5. Went to see the new version of The Karate Kid (does this count as a new thing?  I saw the old one like fifteen years ago, so I didn't even remember the ending).  Is it weird how much I love sports movies? You can always count on them to be uplifting, even if your team loses.*
6. Read "The Crack-Up" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
(6b. Discovered that in one of his letters, Fitzgerald used "you're" instead of "your," and I felt horribly violated.  What a thing to see at six in the morning over coffee!)
7. Got diagnosed with pink eye.  This isn't really a new thing, seeing as how I picked one of these babies up when I was ten from swimming in Nantucket and it scarred my cornea, but, hey, I certainly haven't done this in a while.

I feel like this is a cheerful solution to my doldrummy dilemma: if, one day, I don't manage to do a new thing, it won't really matter, but in general I will be trying new stuff regularly, and I think that will make me very happy without making me feel constrained.

*Strangely enough, I don't like real sports.  I've decided that this is because real sports are not funny.  No one laughs.  Ever.  Real sports take themselves so seriously that you have to wear suits to be involved in them.  That's probably why I don't like politics, either.  Anywhere you can't crack a well-placed fart joke is a place I don't ever want to be.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On Doing Things Twice, and Whether I'm a Sad, Sad Person

    Last night, I went running with my friend Meg (we are training for a half-marathon; doesn't that make me sound so fit? I love saying it so much I've decided to actually follow through on it), and while she was tying her shoelaces she casually remarked on something or other, "I hate doing things twice.  I would never go live in Scotland again because I would always be trying to recreate what it was like the last time I was there, and it would ruin all the nice memories I have."
    My truth-moment alarm bell sounded.  Sometimes people just say things in the right way and it changes your whole experience of yourself.
     I am always trying to do things twice.  I think I've tried to date every idiot I've ever dated twice. I re-read pretty much every book I read almost immediately.  When I go to a restaurant, I order the same thing every time.  (Oddly enough, though, I hate leftovers.)  And in a vague sort of unplanned way, when I get up in the morning I seem to be intent on having a good day twice. I've never consciously thought about it, but when she said that, I realized that my conception of happiness is always sort of in the past, and that I'm always trying to kind of recreate a past happy day, instead of creating a brand new one. 
      Isn't that just the most awful thing you've ever heard?
      Now that I've considered it, though, I don't think happiness is something that can ever happen to you again.  Happiness, when you find yourself suddenly standing in it, is always something brand-new.
      "But, Hilary," you might say.  "What about that coffee shop you go to every single day?  Doesn't that make you happy?"
      Well, yes.  But the thing that is making me happy is the singular, new conception of the extended experience: it makes me happy to go there every single day.  The experience of reliability and order makes me happy.
      "Or, Hilary," you might say.  "What about when you find that old t-shirt you used to wear in college, and it makes you really happy to see it again?"
      Touche, my friend.  However, what's making you happy in that instance is, I believe, the new instance of remembering.  You probably haven't thought of that shirt in ages, and you certainly haven't thought if it in the way you are thinking of it now, standing in your closet and remembering all the cool stuff you used to do in it.  It's not the shirt that's bringing you joy; it's the remembering.
      So if happiness is always in new things, even a new routine, or a new conception of an old routine, getting up in the morning with the idea that some old day of happiness will just sort of happen over again is probably not the best method for finding it.
      It's like that totally underrated movie Groundhog's Day.  That movie is really wonderfully profound (and man do I love me some Bill Murray.  All of my favorite movies have Bill Murray in them (although Caddyshack is NOT one of them)).  And here I am, still in that scene where he keeps going up to Andie McDowell at the bar and trying to recreate the perfect day with her over and over and over and it just gets increasingly more awkward and desperate.   I am constantly ordering sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist.  And nobody likes that drink.
      The worst part is, I think I'm actually just terrified of being uncomfortable.  I hate not knowing what I'm supposed to do.  I dread going up to a counter in a coffee shop and not knowing the names of all their sizes.  Things like that make me ridiculously anxious, because they make me feel like I stick out, and like everybody knows I'm a newbie, when really I just want to be that unobtrusive-writer-who-is-observing-everything-in-the-background.  But that's totally ridiculous.  No one is going to impale me if I don't order right at a restaurant, and if they do, it's probably part of the experience like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.   And, really, when the sun is going to implode one day, who gives a sh*t how I order at a restaurant?  But these things make me really, really anxious.
      And, apparently, they also prevent me from doing things to make me happy.
      I feel like it's going to take me at least a few days to fully comprehend how to change this attitude without adopting some kind of Gretchen-Rubin-like resolution to "Never Do Things Twice!!!!" with a double underline on a post-it note; but I'll keep you updated.  Today I went to my favorite coffeeshop and sat in the way back room where I never sit and read more of Anna Karenina, which I have never read, so I guess that's a start.
      It's all about the baby steps.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Step One Towards Complaining Less

Things that I really enjoyed today:
-I had a pretty smart student, who at first came off as defensive, and a troublemaker, become really really engaged in my outreach because I took the time to pay attention to him and answer his questions.  He even offered to help me clean up after the class was over!
-My coworker TBel came back from a vacation and we sat down and talked for a while; turns out he had been saving up that thing to talk to me about because he wanted to hear what I would say.  Me.  Specifically.
-I changed my sheets, which is Harry's favorite game ever: he likes to crawl under the fitted sheet and get trapped there while I make the bed and then find his way out.  I think it's so funny.
-I couldn't decide whether I wanted a sub or sushi for lunch today.  So I got both. 
-I got to talk to my brother, and he wanted to talk to me about the things that were bothering me in depth, and he made me laugh so hard I cried at least twice. 
-I found a blog I LOVE, and had enough time to go through the archives and read all of the posts (  I think this woman's child is a Zen master.
-It hit 108 today.  I totally was not prepared, because May was so nice.  But this weekend was the first weekend it's been over 105 this year, which is amazing; and also that means that summer is officially here.  And who doesn't like summer?
-I'm reading Anna Karenina simply because apparently one should read Anna Karenina, but to my delight, it has turned out to be a totally engaging and enjoyable read. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

On Knowing When To Say, "I Can't."

I'm one of those people who believes that, in general, there are very few things you can do which you will regret, and that the only things you will definitely regret are the things you don't do.
Sometimes, though, the thing you should do is quit, and the thing you don't do is to change the course you are already on.
About three months into my relationship with Ex-boyfriend #6, he decided he wanted to go to Germany for a year, during the following school year. Even though I really, really didn't like the idea, I did my best to try to be reasonable, and to find a way to make our relationship work, and to be understanding of his desires.  I was supportive, and encouraging, and suggested having an open relationship while he was away, and invested a year of my time in a relationship I wasn't sure would make it, and put up with all kinds of conversations about how desperately he wanted to leave his current place and circumstances. What I did not do was to think about whether any of those things were okay with me.
And the only thing I have ever really regretted in my life is not stopping and saying, "I can't do this.  I can't be supportive of you leaving me, I can't be in a relationship with someone who is nine thousand miles away without a more serious commitment than we have, and I can't figure out a way to make this work with what I want for myself."
And because I didn't admit to my reluctance and my pain, somehow our relationship dragged out for another year and a half, and it only ever got worse, and put the both of us through more pain than I think we would have had if we had ended it when he went away.
I swore I wouldn't ever do that again.

Right now I'm in the middle of a nasty situation with one of my best friends; the details aren't all that important, I don't think, and also I don't think I could relate them without a serious bias.  Suffice it to say that I am very sad, and that we have not spoken in nearly two months, and that the fault regarding our lack of communication is equally mine.
And I feel obligated to try to be the best person I can be, and to be reasonable, and understanding, and forgiving, and to put as much effort as I can into a friendship that meant so much to me.  I feel obligated to invite her to express her feelings, to ask her to criticize me and my behavior, to listen and refrain from judgment--
 but that feeling of obligation in a number of ways seems to be hurting me more than the situation itself.
So I would like to take this moment to say, very publicly, "I can't do this."
Maybe it's just that the other circumstances in my life are making this harder than it should be; maybe I'm a little too proud for my own good.  Maybe I am completely and totally wrong.  Maybe I need to let go of my sense of self, and some of my requirements when it comes to friendship.  Maybe I will regret not taking this step towards rebuilding a relationship.
But I can't.
It hurts, and I can't do it.  I am not forgiving enough, or understanding enough, for this particular challenge.  I can't put in effort when I don't know if it will be rewarded, and I can't be objective or reasonable.  I am too small for this.
I tried, and I can't.

God, that feels good.