Cheaters Sometimes Prosper

I cheated in therapy the other day.

We were talking about my inner critics and she (we’ll call her Syrah, but not because she’s whiney) asked me to pick one that kept me from finishing things, especially my stories.

“Make him or her a character, a person, a monster, an anything, but we want to make it somewhat specific.”

So, with the hope that she’d never seen nor heard of [title of show] (and the odds are forever in my favor given that Syrah’s a Belgian mom in her 30s living in Sabadell), I said, “Oh I don’t know … a vampire?”

“Okay, and what is this vampire’s name?”

When in doubt, go with childish alliteration. Welcome to the universe, Count Crabby.

Thinking about him now, I see him more of as a creepy crustacean than the Sesame Street puppet my imagination had first envisioned, but I’ll put him on the back burner for a while. Mmm, maybe we’ll have crab legs for dinner.

///

Count Crabby has an issue with me being a cheater at things, of finding the easiest way to do them, or not doing them as well as they could be done. He also sets subjectively difficult-to-reach goalposts, and is quite adept at moving them on a whim. I wonder if Count Crabby is a Republican. Or an alcoholic stepparent.

In the past, I’ve struggled with this “cheating” concept in fiction writing workshops. For example ….

1. Write a true event from memory

2. Now change the place or the time of day or make the character 10 years younger /older

3. Now write the same scene from the POV of a character who is watching the whole thing.

Boom.  You’ve got fiction.

Count Crabby:  But do you? If you were REALLY creative you could just make something up and not base it on your own banal life.

And we go back and forth and I end up leaving it halfway done and move on to the next idea, not finishing anything.

Well done, CC — you won again.

He’s very smug, this vampire.

///

It’s not just in my writing. I went for a run today. I ran 5k, which is indeed very different than running “a 5k”.  It was the second time I’d covered about that distance since I re-laced up the Sauconys about a month ago. At the end, my Garmin gave me a shout out. “You have a new record! A 43-minute 5k”.

While this is not a Personal Worst, it’s certainly not a Personal Best, and it’s about 18 minutes slower than I was 2 years ago, before the injuries started happening. It’s been a little start and a lotta stop since then (pulled this, torn that, a hernia operation, a badly sprained ankle, a few months of “you can’t leave your apartment” Barcelona quarantine — “nobody expects the Spanish Isolation”— and then a few weeks of “fuck it I can’t do anything more until the new Lexapro Rx fully kicks in, a thrown-out back, etc.).

TLDR: I went for an interval run, coached by Andy Speers from Peloton. I walked all of the jog breaks.

Count Crabby: That’s cheating.

Lord Lexapro: Oh sweetie, just fuck right off, he’s out there trying to get his mo-jog back and he ran longer intervals today than he’s done since he’s been back. That’s a win and you can just go to the back of the bus and find something else to critique on another day. Sit your 10-legged, pointy-tooth, pale-faced ass down.

During the end of the run, Andy said to me (and me alone), “there may have been room for improvement, but you did the best you could today.”

I wanted to debate that a little … maybe I could have jogged one of those walk breaks. Maybe I could have pushed a little harder in those last 1-minute intervals. But then I saw CC snapping two of his claws together in a downwards Z shape humming “I told you so” and I thought …

No. I did what I set out to do (finish a slow 3.1 miles, and I did 3.2, so neener neener neener, CC) and now I have a benchmark when I go out on this run with Andy again in a couple weeks.

So here I am. I’ve run and I’ve written.

I’ve committed to starting and finishing something every day for the month of October.  We’re bringing back Bobcelona. Yes, I’m cheating on the idea, but 20 minutes of a free write is what it is. And I’m cheating by composing on the keyboard instead of writing and then re-typing. And I’m pushing aside my nobody-needs-to see-a-first-draft demons because Austin Kleon says “show your work”.

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Step Right Up

“I’m going to climb all the steps in my building at LEAST once a day.”

Ah, the optimistic promises of those facing lockdown.  Just because I can’t go out for a run didn’t mean I had to lose the running mojo I’d been slowly re-developing over the previous couple months.  Ah, 2020 … you teased us with such promise.

The stairwell happened exactly once, early on. I was winded an inordinately short amount of time, and it only took a few minutes to go from the ground level to my 5th-floor flat (top floor, but hardly a penthouse).

This morning, in an effort to limit my lockdown laziness, I took the recycling out (first breaths of on-the-street fresh air in four days. I took the elevator (because it’s new and shiny) down, and noticed how clean the new floor was. That’s not gonna last.

On the way up I set two timers. 20 minutes on my watch and 30/30 intervals on my GymBoss app. I climbed for 30 seconds up, then took 30 seconds to look out the landing window. I never rested on floors with doors just the landings between them. #goodcitizen

Lather rinse repeat till the top. Then walked all the way down ignoring interval timers. I didn’t check my watch until I thought I was almost done, at which point I realized that 6 minutes of walking up and down stairs seems like AT LEAST  half an hour.

A big shout out to the people who live in walkups (carrying groceries!) and their asses that I could bounce quarters off of.

On one of my trips to the lobby, one of the neighbors came in the front door — an older guy (probably my age, lol). He’d just come from the (overpriced) 24-hour super next door was holding two packets of cookies. Breakfast of champions. We was wearing slippers, PJ bottoms, a janky t-shirt an a bathrobe. To go to the market!

I’d say he’s winning the lockdown, but I saw him come in one morning just after we’d moved in, dressed pretty much the same. I have since added “achieve robe-guy’s level of no fucks given” to the someday/maybe list in my planner.

I carried on for the remaining 14 minutes and thought that tomorrow (or the next day time, routines schmoutines) I might even go 35/25 intervals. I also learned that, like in running when the first mile lies, the first few flights are deceptively taxing.  “Maybe I’ll even bump up my minutes as well, “I thought.

And we laughed and laughed.

Baby steps. Literally.

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If Morning Ever Comes

You wake up and you think, lord t’underin’ jeebus, how will I ever get through this day? At least Phil Connors got to get out of the house. But in this movie, there are consequences. So inside you stay.

You make your way through the day’s tasks. You either watch the news or you don’t. You watch a little more of Alexis’ character arc and wonder if you could find a university to pay you to do a PhD on her. Boop.

You decide to limit the time you check the worldometers site that’s been bookmarked on your phone and laptop for weeks now, before you ever imagined it would be spitting out the number it is.

You check it anyway. You wait for the peak.

You see the trends and you don’t understand why people are still partying on beaches for Spring Break.

You think they’re idiots, but you think you were 20 once too, and you wonder what you would have done. Would you still have gone to that bathhouse 35 years ago?

You realize it’s not really your problem and you worry for their parents. All those years of saying “make good choices.”

You worry about your own parents and you know one side is fine and the other, well notsumuch. You rationalize, for the umpteenth occasion, that the move to the nursing home was the best choice at the time and probably still is.

You see a mother walking down the street wearing a mask. Her barefaced kid’s alongside her, pushing himself on a scooter. You wonder which essential service they’re going to, and think maybe the government should allow parents to walk their children, the same way they allow you to walk your dog.

You hear an ambulance in the distance, wailing above the dopplering of diminished traffic on the street below your window.

You think about a daughter standing outside the window of her mother’s nursing home, in the cold, tapping on the glass to get her attention; making sure her mom knows she’s still around even though she can’t come in. Doing all that despite the fact that she might not be completely recognized. She wonders who her mom will see through her pane: her daughter? her long-gone younger sister? a healthcare worker who found herself outdoors? a stranger?

You think about the aunts and uncles who you never got to say goodbye to.

You try not to think about yesterday’s 4:30 am anxiety attack, when you worst-case-scenarioed yourself into envisioning which of the two of you would go first to the hospital, and, if that happened, would it be the last time you saw each other?

You try VERY FUCKING HARD not to think of the “lucid, drowning deaths” an Italian doctor wrote about —fully aware that you’d be drowning in your own body fluids, in isolation.

You promise yourself not to think about all the doctors who, having been forced to change their names to Sophie, are making unthinkable decisions.

You wish there was a password-protected block that someone could put on this channel of your mind’s cable subscription.

You look out the window and see an older woman carrying a seemingly empty re-usable grocery store bag. It looks like Sainsbury’s but that would be very long walk indeed. You wonder if she’s actually shopping, or if’s it’s just a prop so she can tell the police she’s on her way to market. You see scores of pigeons following her, and you wonder what the collective noun for pigeons is. You find yourself disappointed that there isn’t just one term, and while “dropping” and “kit” could be the best of them, they still leave you unfulfilled.

They keep after her, some scurrying on their filthy little feet, others flapping around in half flight. She shoos them away, but they are undaunted (some of them chasing the breadcrumbs they think she’s tossed — like a dog who falls for the invisible ball trick). They are relentless. Like paparazzi.

The pigeonazzi.

You scan the rooftops for people lucky enough to have access and bold enough to break the rules. They perch on the edges of their buildings like sentinels. Perhaps there is an underground Catalan Whatsapp group that you don’t know about, one where we are directed to recreate Antony Gormley’s “Event Horizon”.

You remember rambling the streets of London in 2007, searching for their silhouettes.

You see a cat bouncing around a terrace across the way, looking at all the birds and bugs it could hunt if it were free. Alert. Aware. Agile.

You look at your own cat on the sofa beside you, working on his own installation: “50 Shades of Catnaps”, or “I don’t know why you humans give so many fucks. Don’t you have food? Don’t you have places to rest all around this flat? Can’t you find a square of sunshine? Don’t you have shadows to chase?”

You hear the apartment door open and your partner has come home from the not-Sainsbury’s, a granny trolley full of fresh fruit and veg, snacks, ingredients for new recipes he’s found on the internets, and a chicken so you can make (yet) another batch of soup.

He takes off the plastic gloves they gifted him on entry (before the mandatory store-supplied sanitizer) and says there was a queue to get in, but it seemed longer than it was because everyone was keeping a meter of space between them. They aisles were not especially full, and the shelves better stocked than the last visit. People kept their distance and everything was done with a measured, controlled, efficiency.

You tell them that sounds very civilized and he says it was more about being surreal and scary.

You think that you never teach sibilance in your ESL classes.

You realize you have an unending list of things to be grateful for, not the least of which is someone who puts up with your neuroses and a vegetarian who picks up poultry for you.

You decide to get on with your day, which is already almost half over. Like so many other days in this social experiment you’ve been dropped into, no matter how insurmountable the day seems at first glance, before you know it, you’re wondering “where did all those hours go?”

You hope it will continue to be one of the better days, maybe even as good as a couple days ago. You hope it won’t be anything like 4:30 am yesterday.

You look at the bulletin board next to your desk, and see a quote from Anne Tyler …

“I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place.”

You know that after you start that pot of soup in a few minutes, you’ll find yourself in Sandhill, North Carolina, walking alongside Ben Joe Hawkes and and watching him figure out his own unexpected world; maybe even reading something upside down.

 

 

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Taking Stock

And in today’s episode of “How’s that Mindfulness Thing Working Out for You?” …

I’d just finished the David Sedaris Masterclass that my sister generously gifted me for Christmas. I kept putting off watching the end of it because: A) I didn’t want it to end, B) there was always something else I needed to watch on TV and C) I don’t really like watching things on my computer (or mobile).

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ok, boomer.

David told me I should be writing. He wants “to hear the things in your life that have gone wrong.” He also told me I should be reading Ann Patchett’s “The Getaway Car”, so I found that online (in a collection of non-fiction that I’d always thought was a novel) and painlessly put in on my Kindle (the joys of Amazon).

And then I took a nap (the joys of “Alexa, set timer for 20 minutes”).

I was going to have her set another 20 minutes (the joys of repetition) and thought, “no, you have a dinner tonight and if you nap the rest of the afternoon you won’t get anything accomplished and David says I need to be disciplined.

So I went to the bathroom and wiped down the counter.

Then I went to my desk and opened up my Moleskine (which is oddly not filling itself up, despite my “fill one each quarter” new year’s not-a-resolution-more-like-a-target) to write for a bit.

My brain was still a little fuzzy from the nap, or from just being my brain, so I decided I needed a cup of something … coffee or tea to sit down at my desk with.

Right next to the kettle is my Insta Pot, with a 4:18 on the LED.

Oh, that’s right, I was making vegetable stock before I headed out to lunch.

“Sorry I’m late,” I’d told my lunch companion. She’s the wife of one of my best friends from college, and until yesterday we’d never met despite him having been to Europe a few times in the past decade. Until now, we’ve just kept up with each other on, of course, the Book of Face. “I was making vegetable stock and had a little Insta Pot crisis.”

“You make your own vegetable stock?” she asked.

“Well, you know … easier than throwing all the scraps away,” I lied. Because nothing is really easier than throwing scraps away … I mean the garbage bin is right there. And there’s a garbage chute for the bags literally next to my apartment door. “I just keep a bag full of scraps in the freezer and take whatever is on its last legs from the fridge, toss it in the Insta Pot with some water and seasoning and … boom, stock.”

These are the conversations you have with new BFFs, no?

Until recently, I’d been buying stock in 1-litre cartons and instead of saving it for recipes, I’ve been pouring it into a mug and microwaving it up. I’m a whore with store-bought caldo … chicken, veggie, meat …  you name it (well, not fish), I’ll give it the old nuke-and-sip.  Me, my cat, a cup of steaming broth and a Netflix series. I moved to Barcelona and became an abuela.

It’s very satisfying, the stock. Like soup but less filling. So, of course, I have more. And then, the other day, I read the label. One serving has 33% of the recommended daily sodium intake. My cardiologist (the joys of being in your 50s) wants me to lower salt consumption as part of her so-called “Keep Bob alive” plan, which involves lowering my blood pressure. I don’t cook with salt. I rarely salt my food. But apparently, I’m now like a deer — slowly lapping away at various flavored saltlicks.

So, yes, I’ve begun to make my own stock. Without salt.

Oh, that’s right, I was making vegetable stock before I headed out to lunch.

 Well if it’s been on warm for more than 4 hours after 30 minutes of pressure cooking, it must be ready. I got out a colander and a mesh strainer, because I thought this batch could use a double strain, and all those solids were never going to fit into the strainer without spilling over.

Releasing the lid, the kitchen filled with smells of a day’s simmer … carrots, onions, garlic, celery, a hint of dill. Much better than anything store-bought.

I slowly poured the contents into the strainers, the steam rising up and misting my glasses.

Glug, glug, glug … right into the sink.

Not much use double-straining a fresh batch of broth if you don’t put a container under the bottom one.

I caught myself before I emptied out the whole pot … maybe only a quarter went down the drain. I took out a large plastic bowl (which ironically had been holding the colander and strainer while they were in the cupboard) and finished siphoning off the soup.

Which, as it turns out, tastes delicious (even salt free!) and I just might go back to the kitchen for a third cup when I finish this sentence.

Then maybe I’ll do a mindfulness meditation. Because they really seem to be having a positive effect.

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Falling (Day 4)

And we gently exhale out of Urdhva Hastasana into Uttanasana.

Doesn’t that sound nice? Peaceful and soothing, no?

Ugh. It’s not.

For those who were with us yesterday, Urdhva Hastasana is the Standing Salute. We inhale up into that pose, then we exhale down into a Standing Forward Fold.

As your gym teacher used to say, “touch your toes.”

Or, in my case these days, especially on the first try, touch your shins. And that is truly frustrating, because a few months ago, when I was in a regular practice, I could get down to my toes relatively easily.  With my legs straight! (or at least they felt straight to me). By the end of the warm up (5 cycles of Sun Salutations A and 3 Sun Salutations B), I could hang there with my knuckles pushing into the floor.

I have lost so much flexibility. So much that I wonder if it’s worth starting back again.

batman-yoga-meme

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In this house (Day 3)

The task for this piece was to incorporate a sign into it.

I was scribbling this out in a café at lunchtime, thinking about all the signs (mostly in Catalan) I saw while walking there from home. Which one to choose? When the waiter brought my meal, I looked up and saw this:

In this house

  • We do real
  • We do mistakes
  • We do I’m sorry
  • We do fun
  • We do hugs
  • We do second chances
  • We do happy
  • We do forgiveness
  • We do really loud

After I left, I realized I forgot that I meant to take a photo of it. Oh well.


 

You’re back on the mat, centered and ready to begin. Feet firmly planted, the outsides parallel and calloused big toes touching.

Looking down to double check, you resist the urge to pack it all in and head straight for a pedicure.

You bring your hands to prayer position in front of your chest. You breathe in and raise your arms above your head. Not just raise. Reach. Upward Salute. Urdhva Hastasana.

The first real movement of Sun Salute A.

You create a gentle tension in your body. Feet still pushing him to the floor, grounding yourself. Your hands are together above your head, reaching towards the ceiling, towards the sun.

It’s a formalized version of one of the most basic stretches you do almost every day if not every hour. Grabbing something off the top shelf. Having a big, indulgent yawn. Holding an overhead rail on a jostling bus or subway train. Helping someone shove that just too big to fit on into the overhead (why do people lose any sense of spatial awareness when flying?). Hailing a taxicab. Swatting at that itsy bitsy spider at the top of the wall who isn’t doing any harm to anyone, but needs to go nonetheless. Getting rid of that cobweb in the corner (not right now but definitely before company comes). Writing slang they don’t teach in textbooks at the top of the blackboard.

In the here and now, it’s a controlled, precise movement. You look up and back towards your hands, palms pressed together. You feel your breath sink down deep past your diaphragm. Your core is taut. You feel a stretch in your chest and your heart opens just a little bit more. Your shoulders sink down and back. Your legs are solid, supporting the pose.

In the Ashtanga studio, the shala, you would be like this for only one inhalation. But you’re at home and, as they say all too often here, no hay prisa, tranquilo.

So you take the time to breathe into the pose. You feel a little tight in your right shoulder, so you lean into that and stretch a little from side to side.  In this house we do real.

You close your eyes and lean a little bit further back, wondering what it will be like to return to back bends. You lose your balance a little but quickly recover. In this house we do mistakes.

You move your hips around a little in a circular movement. It’s not part of the practice, but you’ve been doing this a lot before and after runs, and it feels quite nice. In this house we do fun.

You think about how many times you’ve rushed through this in the past, and how much you’re enjoying getting back into it as slowly as is necessary. You feel that you’re growing taller with every breath. In this house we do second chances.

You feel like you’re starting to wake up, and smile at the thought of returning to your practice. In this house we do happy.

You think about how long you’ve been out of commission. Of the many reasons that might have caused that, and truly don’t really matter anymore. Of all the projects started, of all the races not run, of all the round-tuits you never got. You tell yourself it’s all okay. In this house we do forgiveness.

You take one more deep breath, reach a little higher, and let out that breath with the loudest “ahhhhh” that you can manage. One of the cats jumps off the window sill where she’d been sleeping. In this house we do really loud.

You know you’re ready to dive into the next movement, but for now we focus on this. And you know, that in the entire practice, you will have plenty of time to wrap yourself around yourself. In this house we do hugs.

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Bringing the mountain to Bikram (Day 2)

I had been talking with my work colleague Margaret about running and saying that  I needed to get back to some kind of yoga practice. This was a couple of years before I’d left New York, so around 2002.  It was wintertime.

“I’ve been going to Bikram,” she said.  “It’s just a few blocks away, the other side of Times Square.  Come with me one day, I love it.”

Margaret also loved doing spontaneous 10Ks and half-marathons that she never really trained for. Her motto was “if you can walk the next day, you didn’t run hard enough.”

“What’s a Bikram?” I asked, handing over a stack of presentation slides I had just prepared for her team.

“It’s yoga in a warm room,” she said. “I’m going next Monday. I’ll sign you up.”

A “we’ll see” turned into a “why not?” and the next Monday we were trudging across midtown in a wintery mix, trying not to slip in the icy slush.

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Mountaineering (Day 1)

I am standing in tadasana, the mountain pose.  I feel more like a recently-transplanted, withering old wobbly tree whose roots haven’t quite taken, but a mountain is what we’re going for and a mountain it is.

My feet are planted firmly at the top of the ratty purple yoga mat I keep at home. The one that the cats like to scratch on. If I look out to the side, I can see the Mediterranean beckoning me through the morning haze.  “Wouldn’t you like to be relaxing near me? Perhaps sipping a cafe con leche at the chiringuito? But I look ahead. A pop-art Buddha I got in Siem Reap sits atop the TV stand we got from IKEA. He reminds me to focus.

I make sure I’m in the proper position.  Feet parallel, big toes touching at the top of the mat. I fan my toes to the best of my ability, which has never been all that great.  I engage my thighs and think about rotating them slightly inward. Everything lifts up. Core is engaged. I shrug my shoulders and let them fall down and back. A quick tilt of the pelvis towards the legs makes sure I am aligned correctly.

I take a slow, deep breath and am ready to begin the first movement of Sun Salute A, aka Surya Namaskara A.

I pause.  It’s been a while since I’ve done this. It’s not like I don’t know how. It’s not like I haven’t done literally hundreds, if not thousands, of these in the last 20 or so years.  It’s not like I didn’t do around 40 of them a week for a few months when I started Ashtanga last December. Then I tore my adductor in February. A torn adductor does not a happy asana make.

I’ve been thinking about restarting my practice for several weeks now.  I know I’m better, but I also am well aware I’m not fully recovered. Like my groin, my mind is torn between knowing the yoga could help me heal faster, but could also re-aggravate the injury if I’m not careful.  And so I’ve been, perhaps, erring on the side of caution. I don’t exaggerate when I say I am petrified of pulling something new, or fucking up an injury that hasn’t quite healed, or just being in pain. There’s been too much pain the past several months. I’m not used to it. Nor do I want to put myself in a situation where I have to get used to it.

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Friday Night Writes

Ten things I did/learned this week …

  1. Finished teaching for the summer. Another great group of kids. They made me laugh, didn’t make me fear for the future, and taught me a few things along the way.
  2. Started official training for the half-marathon in Valencia.
  3. Decided to do more than my silly (although apparently we’ll-received) posts on the Aaptiv Facebook page and revived the half-marathon blog I started about a year ago
  4. Failed to let go of being irritated by someone I don’t really know. I’ve gone and wedged an online person under my skin, to the point of dreaming about them and waking up furious. I’m an idiot. Memo to self: either turn it into a story or get therapy.
  5. Booked tickets to Boston / Ptown, so Bobapalooza Stateside’18 is officially a go.
  6. Immersed myself in the new Anne Tyler. Debating whether or not to buy a cactus. I’ve decided to try to channel the goddess and reframe irritating people as quirky characters who can be written about with warmth, humor and compassion.
  7. Quickly realized that I will most likely fail at #6.
  8. Finished a month(ish) of padel classes with three of the most charming torturers instructors. They challenged me while making me laugh and taught me: better to approach things from the side, prepare as quickly as possible, remain open, and the use of force usually means a loss of control.
  9. These lessons apply to padel as well.
  10. There is a sequel to Uno called Dos, although I haven’t played it.

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Hace demasiado tiempo

It´s been almost 5 years since I’ve been here.

It´s been almost 5 years since I started this blog, which I’ve written in a handful of times.

It’s been almost a year since my last post.

Time for a change, I think.  Not quite sure what that’s going to be, but I keep hearing / feeling /thinking about putting something out there.

#staytuned #talkingtonoone

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