Accidental Wisdom


I accidentally said something wise at work.

Co-worker Elaine had asked me about Ragnar because her husband and some of his friends were getting a team together and she wasn’t sure if she should run or not, and I have a bunch of Ragnar stickers on my car.

Of course, I told her Ragnar is the best. I told her that it’s my favorite race, and that she is totally capable of running it. I told her that people run in costume and there’s a unique camaraderie in the van. I told her it’s a chance to feel like a kid again.

Still, Elaine was worried about her pace. Evidently her husband’s friends are cops and are pretty competitive. They didn’t love that she runs like an 11-minute pace. In our conversation about pace, she was saying that she just didn’t think she would ever get faster, and I said, “Pace is really just dependent on how uncomfortable you’re willing to be. You can get faster; it just might not be worth the discomfort.”

Of course discomfort is not the only factor. If I’d lose 20 lbs, it’d be a lot easier for me to run faster, but the variable that’s always a factor is discomfort.

I am a firm believer that anyone can run Ragnar, anyone can run a half marathon, and anyone can run a full marathon. The question isn’t whether a person can do it. The question is whether a person is willing to do it. The question is how uncomfortable a person is willing to be, because running a marathon is really uncomfortable for a really long time.

Elaine recently quoted me back to myself, saying that she actually thinks about discomfort every time she runs now. She thinks about how if she’ll just be a little more uncomfortable, she’ll also be a little faster.

It’s really cool to hear that it helped her. Even though I didn’t intend to be particularly awesome or helpful in that moment, what I said to Elaine has actually been really helpful to me in studying for the LSAT.

The LSAT is an obnoxious test. And I’m beginning to believe that taking it is a lot lot running a personal best on race day. It’s not just about getting up to the distance; it’s also about being efficient. It’s about pacing and constant forward motion.

I scored my first 160 on a practice test several weeks ago, which was awesome. 160 is the median score U of A accepts, and it’s at the lower end of the range where they offer merit-based scholarships. It was also my goal score, so I got to adjust my goal up, which is always such a confidence-booster. But it took a lot of discomfort to get to that 160. It took a lot of sitting at sbucks, reading and practicing a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with law school. I’ve done practice questions about giraffes, race cars, evolution, public parks, furniture, bread deliveries, tropical fish, computers, drilling fluids, choreography… you name it, I’ve studied it. Some of the questions are about literature, which always makes me happy, but the vast majority of my preparation has been reading about crap that really irritates me.

Also, it would have been easy to score 160, then stop worrying and studying. And yet, here I am, at sbucks, getting ready to work through my third thousand-plus page book, in the hopes that reading about the history of model airplanes will provide significant compensation in a few months. Discomfort now, for comfort in the future.

That’s what running is like. The more uncomfortable I’m willing to be, the better I will likely perform on race-day.

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About My Week


I had a difficult week – not bad – just difficult.

The primary struggle this week was friendships.

There were two or three different instances when I felt like a friend or friends were being competitive with me. It centered around the big life decisions I’ve been making, and really stirred up anxiety and sadness in me.

I hate comparison.

People are different. Circumstances are different. There is no possible way for one person to look at another person’s decisions and believe they should also do (or have already done) the same thing.

I completely close off when people start comparing themselves to me, and I wish I didn’t. I wish I had it in my to tell them things like, “Don’t play that game. Don’t get sucked in. Make the best decision for you. Don’t take the decision I made for myself and think it somehow provides commentary on the decisions you’ve made for you.”

One of the times I felt I was being watched and compared to others this week was at a get-together of some old friends. There were about 9 of us, I think, and I hadn’t seen or talked to any of them for months. Realistically, I’ve been intentional about moving on from 7 of them, so it was bound to be weird. I almost wish, however, that I didn’t have so much news to tell them. I wish I could have faded into a corner and let them catch up with one-another. I wish we’d gotten together a couple of months ago when I wasn’t getting ready to take the LSAT and sell my house.

I’m not selling my house to make money, although I am glad to discover that I probably will make money. I’m not taking the LSAT to feel smart or to impress. I didn’t quit teaching as a commentary that all teachers should get out. But it feels like that’s exactly what 6 or so of those old friends saw… the assessment, judgment, and occasionally envy or admiration was palpable last weekend.

It bothers me. It feels too much like a jockeying for position, like there’s some hierarchy and everyone is trying to figure out where I fit and where they fit in comparison to me. I don’t want to fit. Anywhere. I don’t want to fit at the top or at the bottom or in the middle of any hierarchy. It bothers me that a hierarchy exists.

My anthem for this season: “It is the most difficult thing in the world for a person to run her own pace when she knows someone is watching.”

I no longer even remember where that quote comes from, but I find great comfort in it. That quote brings me a peace, because it strips away the hierarchy and recognizes that every runner has a pace that fits her, that’s her own.

When I start to see my flaws or my strengths, this quote reminds me that racing isn’t about beating anyone else. It’s about taking the person I’ve been given – taking Katie… her muscles, her fat, her brain, her heart, her whatever – and running the best pace she can run. This quote reminds me that no matter how many people are watching and evaluating my race, the pace I set can never depend on their evaluation.

Have a good week, friends, and run your pace, regardless of the pace others around you are running.

The Question that Threw Me


I’ve decided to pursue volunteering with Victim’s Services. From what I can tell, this means that I would go to crime scenes and help victims meet their immediate needs, whatever those may be (a glass of water, a quiet place to sit, phone calls, etc…). Plus, I’d leave behind resources for them in the coming days – pamphlets with phone numbers and information to help them make the next steps.

I like thinking of it as going into the darkest dark of a person’s life, being a soft light next to them for an hour, maybe two, then leaving as quietly as I came, but also putting a flashlight and some batteries in their hands so that they can start finding their way out whenever they’re ready.

There’s a rigor to volunteering with Victim’s Services that’s to be expected, which is why I found myself downtown at 6:30 on a weeknight, in a building with metal detectors and a security guard.

I thought I was going to nail the interview. You see, the volunteer program at Casa de la Luz has a similar rigor to it, and I’ve been interviewing prospective volunteer for the past three weeks.

I answered their questions, but one of them really stuck with me.

Somehow, the question to get to me wasn’t the one about times I’d been victimized in the past. It wasn’t the one about what the most difficult scenario would be for me in volunteering. The question that’s haunting me is: “What did your friends and family say when you told them you wanted to do this?”

I feel a little like Creed in The Office when new HR person Holly asked him what he did at Dunder Mifflin, and he was all, “Who does she think she is, asking questions that are none of her business?”

I know it’s a fair question. And yet… the truth is that Victim’s Services was never much of a conversation with any of my friends or family.

I’m pretty sure I told my mom. I told Danny and Lauren; Danny said he thought I’d be good at it… and that’s about it. I mentioned it to a friend at church, but only because the training was going to prevent me from attending Bible Study for 6 weeks.

I mean, I went to Mongolia without anyone’s permission. I pierced my nose and got tattoos. I bought a house, quit my job, went to Peru, fell in love, adopted two ducks and a dog…Not only did I do those things without anyone’s permission, but I didn’t even really ask for feedback on most of it.

To some extent, I think I may now understand all of the conflicts I’ve had in my entire life.

I know, it’s been quite the week for me.

Steve and Lori, Ashly, the Johnsons… all of the people I’ve been closest with in my life have the unmistakable ability not to take it personally when I tell them they’ve given me great advice, but I’m going to do exactly what they said I shouldn’t do. They also don’t take it personally when I don’t explain why I didn’t take their advice. They also have a pretty wonderful way of never acting like it’s bad for me to take risks or do things differently than most people do them. When I think about it, how they relate to me might boil down to them having the ability to entrust me to God.

All of the people in my life with whom I’ve had major conflict have the unmistakable need for people, items, ideas, and everything in existence to fall in line; they take it as an insult that I don’t communicate my thoughts and reasons for doing the things I do. They have a sense of right and wrong that extends beyond what’s actually in the Bible, and it’s frustrating to them when I discard things on which they place moral significance.

When I think about what those close to me would have said if I’d asked them what they think about me volunteering with Victim’s Services, I think they’d all have probably asked me a lot of questions and said it might end up being really awesome, and if it wasn’t awesome, I’d figure that out, and stop doing it. Also, I think they’d say that I’ll probably learn a lot, and they can see why I want to do it.

Regardless, I may try a little harder to talk with people BEFORE I go running off to foreign countries, changing careers, etc… I may try to make friends and family a part of the decision-making process, rather than just updating them once the decision has been made. That would probably be a good change for me to make in my life.

Permitting the Unjustifiable


This morning, I decided I need to be reading a book about writing.

I’m in a wonderful stage of writing the manuscript. This stage is the one in which it’s mostly done, so I print out a hard copy of the years of investment in fake people. I read it and allow others to read it. It cost me about $20 to print the thing, which is a reminder as to why books can sometimes be fairly pricey.

The thing about printing my manuscript is how completely uncertain I was as I walked into the FedEx store to pick it up.

You see, $20 is money. It’s money that I could be spending on things that others would be more likely to understand. I could get a Smart Phone and put that cash towards a data package. I could put it towards my car that’s bound to stop running any day now. People would understand those things. They don’t understand the money going towards the imaginary happenings of my mind.

That’s why I read books about writing.

Sure, sometimes, books about writing teach me things about how to write better, but most of the time, books about writing remind me that I’m not alone and I’m not breaking any rules when I decide to spend money on something other people wouldn’t spend money on. Reading books about writing reminds me that there are other people in this world who spend hours working on one sentence, because it has the potential of greatness. There are people who blow off their friends and family to sit alone in the quiet, frantically typing out the ideas for fear they will too soon vanish. They spend $20 on paper and ink that may never come to anything.

The book I chose to read is Rachel Simon’s The Writer’s Survival Guide.

In all honesty, I went at the book with my trademark sense of superiority. Chapter one is entitled “The Big Questions.” To me, the first chapter in most non-fiction books is a waste of time. The author is trying to build context in that chapter, and she rarely gets to any of the meat in that chapter, so I find it tedious.

Problem: Rachel Simon begins with the meat.

“Why should I – or anyone – write?”

“Do I have talent, and how can I tell?”

“How big a commitment can (or should) I make?”

Those really, truly are the constant questions in my brain. They might not manifest in exactly the same way Simon expressed them, but they are the fears of my heart, because discovering that my writing is actually terrible and unpublishable would be devastating. Such a discovery would, in many ways, reveal a wasted life. Time, money, thought, all invested in something I’m terrible at when they might have been invested in something else.

Simon expresses it this way: “…many people begin writing with a profound lack of faith in themselves. They might even be wrestling with depression. They know they want to write; maybe they even like writing. But deep down, they don’t feel worthy of writing… How could they… grant themselves the permission to go for it?” (8).

I think granting ourselves permission is one of the core obstacles in American happiness. We believe we need permission to make impractical, risky, divergent choices.

Yesterday, I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood for fun. It was not for exercise. It was not for transportation. It was purely for the joy of feeling the wind in my hair. As I was riding, I confess, I felt a little naughty. It was a stolen moment – unjustifiable by grown-up standards. It was like staying home from work when I’m not actually sick; I need someone to give me permission.

Writing is another matter entirely, because people are far less-willing to support my writing endeavors. They are more interested in how my writing impacts them. It keeps me from attending dinners. It changes my disposition when I am in social places. It seems like it’s an obnoxious character flaw when others start commenting on my writing.

Which is why I need the b0oks. I need Rachel Simon to tell me that writing is valuable regardless of my publication status. Regardless of the money. Regardless of whatever.

On Reading YA and Eating Carrots


“Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.”

 

This quote comes from a controversial article written by Ruth Graham that has stirred up all sorts of debate on the interwebs. Having read a response or two and the initial article aptly titled “Against YA,” I now feel knowledgeable enough to comment.

 

In the article, Graham is unapologetically bold in her diction. Though not mean-spirited, she doesn’t just imply or hint or beat around the bush; she calls some of pop-culture’s current faves, “transparently trashy.” She accuses adults of abandoning “the mature insights into that perspective [the perspective of youth] that they supposedly have acquired as adults.” In short, she implies that grown-ups read grown-up books and teens read teen books… thus, adults who read teen books are not adults.

 

Now, okay, as an avid reader, with interests that range from graphic novels all the way to dry texts written by dead theologians, I feel at least a little qualified to voice an opinion here. In addition to my personal reading choices, I also spend 5 days a week with kiddos, guiding them through the world of Young Adult books and the world of classics.

 

Here’s the deal: there isn’t an easy answer here.

 

Do I agree with NY Times writer A. O. Scott, who asserts that adulthood is dead in American Culture? Yes. (Especially in regards to patriarchy and manhood).

 

Do I lament the unashamedly immature behavior of seniors in high school, who are legally adults? Yes.

 

Do I believe adults should read more complex texts than children should read? Yes.

 

Along that train of thought, do I believe we have a literacy problem in America? Yes.

 

The truth is that I don’t particularly disagree with what Graham wrote, but I do take offense at what she didn’t write. There’s far more to this debate than what a person should or shouldn’t read.

 

So, here are my thoughts:

 

There is a spectrum of literacy and I think people of all ages must consider their identities as readers and human beings, making choices that move them closer to the more literate side of things. That being said, I believe people should address their work lives, family, fitness levels, etc… in the same way. The goal should always be to go from being what we are now to something more, greater, fuller…

 

Think of it like this: when I was a teenager, I remember taking great offense at my mother for poo-pooing my carrot-eating. I was very proud of myself for eating carrots drenched in ranch, because that was far better than my norm of hot cheetos. She said that carrots have more sugar than spinach has… which is true. But a person who doesn’t eat any vegetables should certainly be encouraged to eat carrots.

 

Readers are the same.

 

No one really needs to encourage me to read more difficult texts because I’m on the far end of the literacy spectrum. I read something like 20 books at a time, usually including one graphic novel, one YA novel (or other easy read), one classic, and one book on theology. Of course, there’re almost always a ton of other books I’ve got going at any given time, but the point is, you are reading the thoughts of a reader. Still, even with confidence in my literacy level, I read such a wide range of books because I believe I ought to continually grow.

 

Now, we have to address the fact that everyone is not me. Reading is one of my strengths. It is something around which I build my life. I am not the norm, nor should I be. It is good and right for other folks to have other strengths, and I’d hate to think that others look down on me because I’m not particularly musical.

 

I teach students who have literally never finished a book before. Of course they should read about Percy Jackson and Bella. I don’t give a damn that Bella is an insult to femininity/contains a lot of sugar. A person who is on the extreme low end of the literacy spectrum should read Twilight.

 

Problem: I don’t believe that Graham is frustrated with folks at the extreme low end. I think she’s frustrated with the folks in the middle. She didn’t address low literacy at all in her article, which bothers me. She lumped everyone into the same category and judged strong and weak readers by the same criteria. That’s not cool. People should read books that are appropriate and engaging for them… not for someone who has more or less reading experience than they have. Books appropriate for them.

That caveat aside, I think Graham’s point does have validity. I think it’s even biblical. Adults who should be eating solid food haven’t gotten past the milk stage of life. I think she’s annoyed that adults in our culture have decided not to move up on the spectrum, which is a shame and worthy of admonishment.

 

YA novels are simple. They are emotional. Their pacing and diction cater to the kid.

 

They do.

 

This is unarguable. By definition, Young Adult novels are written with the inexperienced in mind. The folks the author thinks about when writing a YA novel are the type of folks you would NEVER go to for advice, because they are children. They are the fools who plagiarize from SparkNotes, believing that I won’t catch them, because they are either incapable or unwilling to read the complex texts assigned to them. They are pimply, hormonal, and emotionally-stunted.

 

And yet, I read books written for them. Intentionally.

 

And I don’t give a damn if Ruth Graham or Mr. Scott want to judge me for it, because I’m confident that I’m as literate as they are.

 

The thing is, right now, I’m working on both Catch-22 and A Tale of Two Cities. So it’s really different for someone like me to sit down and read The Perks of Being a Wallflower than it is for my not-so-literate peers to read it. If that’s all an adult is reading, I think there probably is something wrong. Probably Graham is right in suggesting that, “we are better than this.” However, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that a person only reads one type of book. If I read Looking for Alaska on a plane ride, it’s not because I can’t or even don’t want to read Jane Austen. It’s because I’m on a plane and want the flight to seem faster, and reading YA allows me to finish a book in a matter of hours.

 

Adults should read. They should read books that are more complex than the ones they give to their children, in addition to reading the ones they give to their children. They should read fiction and non-fiction. They should read books that they understand and ones they don’t, because the only way to move up on the spectrum is to get used to eating carrots, then move on to peas, then spinach, then even kale.

 

There should be a difference between what adults read and what children read, and there should be a difference between how adults read and how children read.

 

Mark Twain once said that, “the man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

 

I just quoted that from memory, and yet my favorite series of all-time involves an orphan boy, magic, and the surpassing power in being marked from infancy by love. I can reference Mark Twain and J.K. Rowling with equal consistency. I do not believe I have to love one more than the other or even should love one more than the other. They are both equally valuable to my life. However, my knowledge and skill with literature does mean that I am more literate than many of those who forsake the patriarchs of literacy for John Green.

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle claimed that our brains are like rooms, and we are to fill them with furniture as seems best.

 

I think that’s what reading is about. A person should consider the furniture with which she decorates her brain. She should always be improving upon pieces she possesses, because she doesn’t want her room to fall into disrepair. However, a brand-new homeowner cannot be expected to match the stylings of those who’ve been working on their houses for decades, and a person should not be shamed for finally attempting to make something of a space after decades of neglecting it.

 

Am I against adults reading YA? Absolutely not.

 

I am for everyone, young and old, moving closer to literacy. I am against blanket statements and judgments. And I am certainly against literary snobbery.

 

No adult should feel embarrassed for reading literature written for children. They should feel embarrassed for neglecting their brains, which is maybe closer to what Graham meant to critique. However, she should feel embarrassed for shaming whole groups of people at once, as if reading weren’t personal and intimate. As if one person’s experience reading a book can be equated to another person’s reading of the same book. As if she is qualified and justified in prioritizing  challenging reading over enjoyable reading in my life. As if books and story can be quantified. As if…

 

Life Update


It’s been awhile since I’ve just let you know what’s going on, so here are the headlines:

Peru in 3 Days!

I’m surprisingly chill about my first visit to the southern hemisphere and 5-day trek at altitude in the Peruvian wilderness. I’ve done very little packing or preparation. Later today (written Saturday), I’m headed to REI to make some purchases, but I’m fairly unconcerned about the whole thing.

Here’s the plan: Leaving Friday, flying all over the place, then eventually arriving in Lima, where I will have Starbucks. One of my greatest joys in international travel is taking advantage of the exquisite quality control Starbucks exhibits… my Iced Grande, 3-pump, non-fat, no-whip white mocha tastes remarkably the same no matter where it’s purchased, which absolutely blows my mind.

Next, I will continue on to Cuzco and Amy the dentist will pick me up at the airport. Steve and Lori will arrive a bit after I do and we will acclimate to the altitude for a few days, by hanging out in Cuzco. Maybe we’ll eat a guinea pig and see some old churches.

Then, all four of us will leave for a really long hike (40 ish miles). Day 2 of the hike is the terrifying one because it’s far and uphill. Also, I’m concerned about sleeping because it’s going to be cold and the air will be thin. Sometimes, I get panic attacks in Flagstaff, so I’d bet I’ll feel some physical effects of the ultra-high elevation at the top of Peruvian mountains.

At the end of our hike, we’ll reach Machu Picchu, where I promise not to streak, even if there are a ton of tourists doing so nowadays.

I’ve committed to taking at least one photograph a day during the trip, but I don’t promise they’ll be any good or that I’ll share them here.

Also, note: I’m not going to post much while gone. I haven’t died.

Church and Jesus

Pastor Andy has been doing his job, preaching good sermons and trying to get me to talk more at Surge. He asked me to read the scripture in front of everyone thies Sunday, and while I can’t help the hesitation I feel about handing myself over to the church, I’m trying to try. Midtown church is a good one, and I’m encouraged (and even surprised) that I haven’t found any noteworthy flaws. 🙂 People are people, of course, and imperfect, but it is what I believe a church ought to be.

My affections for the wrong dude aren’t quite so strong in the shadow of Machu Picchu, which is nice, but I still want him and am still trying not to want him. My anger at that boy is stronger than ever, mostly because my heart won’t allow me to give in and go after the dude I want, while that boy already gave in. I want him to love God enough to sacrifice his own desires, which is also what I want for myself. I see us as living parallel stories, and I’m pissed at every moment he doesn’t chose Jesus.

Writing

I’m doing a revision of my manuscript before I send it out to readers for critique. It’s nice to have a full draft, and I’m constantly thinking about querying it, but I’m also treasuring this last bit of time when the story doesn’t belong to anyone except for me.

During revision, I’ve discovered that I have a pacing problem. In writing it the way I wrote it, I created a relentless onslaught of crises. Therefore, I’m adding in a chapter here and a chapter there in an attempt to let the reader breathe. Also, conflict isn’t interesting unless there are good moments worth protecting. The bad must be off-set with good, otherwise, why the hell do my characters even exist?

In addition to my current revisions, I’m looking forward to being finished with this manuscript so I can move onto a new project. I’m re-reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 to prep myself, because I think it might be fun to write an absurd Heller-esque tragic comedy about the state of education. I’m not currently working on it, because I’ll poke myself in the eye if I don’t make a real go at publishing something soon, but I am thinking and paying attention to all of the crazy things that happen on a daily basis in my line of work. I evidently have a social commentary leaning in what I write. Who knew?

Running

In spite of the inspirational running quotes I’ve been posting here, I’m really not feeling up to training for a full marathon anymore. I have recovered a love of running, which I’m afraid to lose. For this reason, pushing myself seems counter-productive right now.

On the athletic front, I’ve got the hike to Machu Picchu this month. Next month, I’m running Ragnar Trail, which is super exciting because it’s my third Ragnar of the year, and I get a special medal because of the specific combo of Ragnar races I’ve run this year. In December, I may run the Tucson Half Marathon. January might be the Rock ‘n’ Roll half or full (depending upon how far I push myself in the next few weeks). February I’ve got Ragnar del Sol. March I’ve got the Distance Classic, which is a half marathon. So I’m pretty well-booked athletically for the time-being. 🙂

Home

In a month or so, we’ll be getting a third roommate.

Everything has gone better than I could have expected with Kendra. She and I are equally independent and disengaged from home, so we’ve had no conflicts that I’m aware of… keep your fingers crossed. We come and go, without worrying too much about our relationship. It’s peaceful and restful. When we do cross paths, we watch The West Wing and give little life updates.

Third roommate is Sara – Ashly’s sis. I’ve known her for a long time, and even spent the holidays with her for several years. She’s pretty different from me or Kendra, but I suspect the independent, not worrying about the relationships things are part of her personality as well, so maybe we’ll be fine.

I’m enthused to have the extra income that comes with another roommate, and that allows me to make the rent colossally low for both roommates, while still having nearly all of my mortgage paid by others. Maybe I’ll save up to buy a car.

That’s pretty much all that’s going on nowadays. I’m getting over a slight cold, and I’m canvassing for school board candidates when I have free time, which is rare. I hope all is well with my readers. Thanks for sticking with me. Some of you have been reading STILL GROWING since its inception, which is crazy because that was quite a long time ago. 🙂

Much love.