Wednesday List #27 – Favorite Songs

I’ve got music on the brain, possibly because I spent the weekend in Nashville and went out for live music three of the four nights that I was there. This is a list of songs that I think are worth your time:

  1. “A Life That’s Good,” by the Stella sisters of the TV show Nashville: It’s my new theme song. “Sitting here tonight, by the fire light, it reminds me I already have more than I should. I don’t need a thing. No one to know my name. At the end of the day, Lord I pray, I have a life that’s good. Two arms around me, heaven to ground me, and a family that always calls me home. Four wheels to get there, enough love to share and a sweet sweet sweet song. At the end of the day, Lord I pray, I have a life that’s good.”
  2. “Mine Would Be You” by Blake Shelton: This is my new favorite love song. “What’s your all time high? Your good as it gets? Your hands down best ever make-up sex? What’s your guilty pleasure? Your old go to? Well, if you asked me, mine would be you….What’s your double dare? Your go all in? The craziest thing you ever did? Plain as your name in this tattoo. Look on my arm, mine would be you…What’s the greatest chapter in your book? Are there pages where it hurts to look? What’s the one regret you can’t work through? You got it, baby, mine would be you.”
  3. “Hold Me Darlin'” by Vicci Martinez: This is a song I wish I’d written. “Who am I now? Who was I then? What am I doing, baby? Who have I been? What am I worth to you? Is it even much? But I said I’m sorry. Are you giving up? Please don’t give up. Hold me darlin. Hold me please. I am sorry. I am weak. I pray for forgiveness and to be free. So hold me darlin’. Hold me please. It’s a good thing, baby. We just need some space. But I’m getting tired of looking at this empty place. I know you’re keeping busy. Is that why we’re out of touch? But my instinct tells me that you’re giving up. Please don’t give up.”
  4. “Glitter in the Air” by Pink: If I could be a rock star for one day, I’d want to be Pink and sing this song. “Have you ever looked fear in the face and said I just don’t care?…Have you ever hated yourself for staring at the phone your whole life waiting on the ring to prove you’re not alone? Have you ever been touched so gently you had to cry? Have you ever invited a stranger to come inside?…Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself will it ever get better than tonight?”
  5. “Keep it to Yourself” by Kacey Musgraves: If I wrote lyrics, I’d want to write like Kacey Musgraves. “You turn on the light then you turn it back off. You’re sleeping alone. Yeah it ain’t what you thought. It’s the drip of the sink. It’s the click of the clock. And you’re wondering if I’m sleeping. You heard from your friends that I’m doing okay. And you thinking that maybe you made a mistake. And you want me to know but I don’t want to know how you’re feeling. Keep it to yourself if you think that you still love me. Put it on a shelf. If you’re looking for someone, make it someone else.”

I have listened to each of these songs again and again in the last few weeks. They are my current favorites. What are yours?

Brad Pitt is Turning 50?

I read this morning that Brad Pitt is turning 50 in December. Huh? What? Mr. Sexy Abs and Dimples In A Cowboy Hat is turning 50?

I remember seeing Thelma & Louise in the Academy Building of Phillips Exeter Academy during my senior year of high school. I was taking a course called the Art of Protest taught by Christine Robinson, one of my favorite instructors, and watching the movie was our homework. (Yes, it was an incredible course for many reasons.) The movie had come out the year before and was new to me. I gushed when Brad Pitt came on screen wearing blue jeans, a cowboy hat, a gorgeous smile, and nothing else. What that man can do with a hair dryer still makes me blush.

To think that gorgeous young thing is turning 50…gives me hope.

Never once have I looked at a picture of Brad Pitt and thought, “Damn, that dude’s getting old.” Sometimes I’ve thought he looked strange or unnecessarily scraggly, but never, ever old. If anything, he’s more attractive now than he was in 1991. I love the lines on his face, the sometimes there ponytail, and the ever-changing facial hair. I love that he wears more clothes and sometimes has kids hanging on his back. I love that he’s grown a big family and become a humanitarian. He’s just stunning. And he’s 50.

I’ve been fretting the whole turning 40 thing since even before I turned 39. Why? Yes, I’m single and didn’t expect to be. But in every way, my life is a million times more meaningful than it was ten years ago. I have a job I enjoy that supports a wonderful lifestyle of freedom. I have another job writing, which feeds me in more ways than a paycheck ever could. I have a beautiful home in the country that I share with my beloved Bread and Butter. I have parents who love me more than life, and I have the most amazing friends – people I’m completely crazy about who support my goals and dreams. I get to travel the world racing. I’m faster now than I’ve ever been. I’m leaner now than I’ve ever been. And I was reminded this weekend that my story isn’t over. In fact, a new story is just beginning.

This weekend at the Storyline Conference, I started down a path of really looking at who I am, what I want, and what I have to offer the world. One part of the process is to do an inventory of personal experiences. That’s a hard thing because not everything I see in my past is beautiful. Some of it is downright heinous. But I was reminded this weekend of a little thing called redemption. I was reminded that I can look at the downturns in my life, identify something meaningful from each experience, and by doing so, turn that suffering into something useful and beautiful.

For the next couple of months, I’m going to continue the work I began in Nashville, and when I’m done, I hope to emerge with a plan for a new story for my life. I have some ideas of what some of the elements might be, but I’m excited to see what bigger, more clear picture comes out of the process. Whatever it is will be my gift to myself as I turn 40 in December just four days after Brad Pitt turns 50.

Then, one week after I turn 40, I will hop a plane to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro. When I get back, I will pick back up with my Ironman training and chase my dream of a fifth Ironman finish next June in Coeur d’Alene. I will continue to chase my dream of being published as an essayist. And I will go down the path of the plan that comes out of the Storyline Conference experience, whatever that path may be.

I have no doubt that, in December, when Brad Pitt turns 50 and I turn 40, I will look at him as a 50-year-old man and say, “You, Mr. Pitt, are way more sexy today than Mr. Sexy Abs and Dimples In A Cowboy Hat ever was.” And I will look at myself and say, “Hey, you in the mirror who enjoys traveling the world and pushing your limits and loving the people around you in big and beautiful ways, you are too.”

My Storyline.

I spent the weekend in Nashville at a Storyline Conference. Storyline is the brain child of Donald Miller, who made a huge splash with me and countless others about ten years ago with his memoir Blue Like Jazz. The idea behind the conference is to give attendees tools that will help each person live a better story than the one he or she is living right now.

On Friday, I went to a bloggers breakfast and an improv workshop, both of which were officially pre-conference activities. Yesterday, we asked two questions: who are you and what do you want? Today, we talked about the good that can come from suffering and where we go from here. In addition to hearing incredible speakers like Donald Miller, Bob Goff (the author of Love Does), Becca Stevens (the founder of Thistle Farms), John Richmond (a human trafficking and civil rights prosecutor) and many others who are doing big and beautiful things in the world, I got to spend time with other attendees talking about our dreams and the things that keep us from them.

There were a thousand people at this conference, but with each session, I felt like the presenters were speaking directly to me.

I’m not ready to get into what this conference meant to me, but I will say that I walked away with a few things I know for sure. For sure, I know that this gathering of like-minded spirits from all walks of life was exactly what my heart needed right now. For sure, I know that I want to go home and continue the work I started here in Nashville. For sure, I know that no dream is too big and no change is too small, even at my age.

It’s not every day that a girl gets to meet and be inspired by one of her favorite authors. This was my today. This was my weekend.

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I’m so grateful for Donald Miller’s intelligence, his heart, his energy, and his desire to equip me with the tools I need – the very tools he uses – to write a better story for my life. It’s been an incredible weekend.

Normally, after a fun conference of any kind, I’m usually a little bummed about seeing it come to an end. But not this time. This time, I’m ready to get home. I’ve got a lot that I want to do, and I’m excited about getting started.

Wednesday List #26 – Things That Are Growing

I’m feeling positive as I approach my personal new year, so today’s list has an upbeat undertone to it. So much is growing in my life. Here are some things that I consider to be particularly fun.

  1. My Tree: At the finish line in Portland this weekend, I received a medal, a t-shirt, a charm, a coin and a tree. Yes, a tree. The tree came in a little paper cup like you would see by an office cooler. The tree is most certainly the most unusual finish line gift I have ever received, but I was in Portland, so perhaps I should not have been surprised. I flew the tree home with me and planted it. (Okay, Mom planted it, but whatever.) Cute, huh? Here’s to hoping that it stays with me.tree
  2. The Number of Books I Carry: I’ve always loved blank books. I carry a journal with me pretty much everywhere I go because I never know when I’ll find time to write. The same is true for my “to do” book. These are my fundamentals, but I have a number of other books I carry too. I have a book that I use for note-taking during writing workshops, Jeanne Guy gatherings, or lectures at the Seton Cove. I started a quote book a while back. I also have a book that I use for jotting down ideas for stories or articles. I have another book that I keep in my purse for thoughts, books suggestions, or notes about conversations with random people, like those I meet on the plane. I also carry a book for poems and lyric ideas. Finally, I carry what I call my Oregon book. My Oregon book is about more than Oregon. In it, I keep a list of my dreams – not the kind that come when I sleep, but the kind that come when I’m wide awake.Books
  3. The Number of Bags I Carry: I live in the country and work in town, so I often find myself “living” out of my car. This means I carry a number of bags. I carry my purse, my work bag, my lunch bag, my writing bag, my gym bag for getting ready for work after morning workouts, a running bag for my after-work trail runs, and most recently, a tennis bag. At times, I look pretty ridiculous, and my big boss calls me a bag lady, but my system of bags works for me.bags
  4. My List of Trips for 2014: I knew long ago that 2013 would be a year of travel. I thought 2014 would be a year of sitting my happy butt at home and restoring the coffers a bit, but that doesn’t seem to be where my year is headed. I’ve got Africa in December and the first half of January. I have races in St. George in May, Coeur d’Alene in June, and Portland in October.  I’d like to find one more marathon to run, so I can keep up my streak of three marathons in one year. I also want to go to British Columbia in July to see the new Ironman Canada venue. Then I have some personal trips I want to make. I want to see my Exeter roommate Karyn and her family. Jenny and I want to hit Chicago (after years of talking about it) for a Cubs game. I want to visit Gretchen in Washington in the summer so that she can take me to Mount Ranier. I want to visit Ann in New England so we can run a race together. I want to get back to DC since I missed my trip last year, so I can see Meghan and Anthony. I’d also like to plan a trip with my cousins Tina and Matt because the three of us are really liking one another in our old ages. And that’s what I know for now. So much for a planted 2014!
  5. My Hopefulness: I’m feeling really good about where I’m headed. Work is going well. My training is going well. I’m enjoying my old friends and making new ones. I’m writing more. And, perhaps most importantly, I’m getting excited about what a few people have separately described to me as the kindness that comes with turning 40. In the last few weeks, three different people have told me that turning 40 made them go easier on themselves. They became more accepting of who they are, less concerned about what other people think, and more forgiving of themselves when they either don’t want to do something or don’t do something exactly right. I’m ready, I think, to settle into myself more and do a little less “shoulding” on myself. Call me crazy, but I’m starting to feel pretty good about things, including turning 40.

It’s fun to think about the little joys – the ways things are happening in life that feel healthy and right. It’s also fun to think and write about them with a cute little critter staring at me from behind the computer screen, like this:Butter

That cute little critter is my Butter. My love for my Butter is also growing every day, but that’s a whole different story.

Happy Wednesday, y’all.

The Next Big Things.

After a big race, I usually find myself in a post-race slump. That’s not happening this time. I’m not fretting figuring out what’s next. I’m actually pretty clear on where I’m heading and how I’m going to get there. I have two big projects going on right now.

First, I’ve been training with my coach Natasha and TriDot since January of this year. I’m down 19 pounds, and I raced personal bests at my two big “A” races this year –  Ironman Coeur d’Alene and the Portland Marathon. I can’t argue with results, so I’ve already put in my request for a new TriDot program towards the Austin Marathon in February so that I continue training through the fall and winter. When that’s done, I know I’ll do another TriDot program towards Coeur d’Alene in June and then yet another one towards the Portland Marathon next October. When a program works for me, I stick with it, and this one is working big time.  I’m excited to keep working on my fitness and to return to the races I did this year so that I can repeat courses and accurately gauge my improvement.

The other big thing is that I’m writing more. I’m writing more on this blog, but I’m also just writing more generally. I’m writing more articles and work pieces. I’m writing more in my journal. I’m even writing emails I know I’ll never send just because the act of writing helps me work through my thoughts. I took a class on personal essays from Saundra Goldman in the spring, and that’s gotten me both reading and writing personal essays more now than I ever have in the past. I’m taking a class on memoir from Spike Gillespie now. Just last night, she got me started on a piece that I think could go somewhere – and by that I mean that I might actually want to send out for publication. Since I’ve decided to return to Whidbey Island this year for another PeerSpirit workshop, I’m starting to think about how I want to use that week and what writing project in particular I want to advance.

Over the course of the year, I’ve realized that I am a much more capable athlete than I originally thought, but it’s been hard to change how I view myself. Even after four Ironmans and thirteen marathons and heaven only knows how many other races, I still feel like the chubby girl in fifth grade gym class who enviously watched her friends back handspring and backflip across the gym floor. I look in the mirror, and that insecure kid is not who I see these days, but I have to make a point of looking in the mirror to be reminded that I have changed. I’m finally – and let me stress the finally – starting to view myself as a potential bad-ass triathlete, a term my coach used about me earlier this year. This year, I’ve proven to myself that I do not have to be resigned to being slow. I can improve, and I have improved tremendously.

I’d like to take what I’ve learned about myself through training and put it to work in my writing. I have watched people I know and love get book contracts and become published authors, and the little voice in my head has said again and again, “That will never happen for you.” It’s time to prove that little voice wrong once again. I’ve published pieces in one magazine. Couldn’t I write for more? I write for myself a lot. Couldn’t I write a book? Whether or not I become someone who makes a living on writing, shouldn’t I try, if that’s what my heart wants?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this Ironman craziness, it’s that anything is possible. Absolutely anything. So there will be no post-race slumping going on here, but there will be writing. Lots and lots of writing. And training. And progress. And changing how I view myself. And blowing through one goal after another. I can’t wait.

Run + Done = Happy.

I ran the Portland Marathon harder and faster than any marathon I’ve done before. This was my thirteenth marathon, and I wanted a personal best for lots of reasons, the biggest of which was that I wanted to associate Portland with something really positive. And now I do. I haven’t been able to pull up my official results yet, but my watch time was 4 hours and 53 minutes. This is the first time ever that my marathon time started with a four. My previous best was a 5:12, which happened in New York in 2010. My best this year, before today, was a 5:19, which I did in Barcelona. So 4:53? I’m thrilled.

Even better than my time was all the stuff that happened in my head as I ran. I’ve said before that training is one way of dealing with my own demons and that my physical and emotional well-being are closely linked. This year, I’ve been dealing with more demons than usual, and if my physical improvement and performance are an indicator of anything, my emotional well-being is on the mend. In this race, I never hit a wall.

For the first ten miles, I was just in awe of what I was seeing on my watch. Most of my one-mile splits seemed to start with a 10, rather than an 11 or a 12, which is huge for me.  For the next ten, I was fighting like hell to keep up the pace, which I know faded, but I don’t believe it ever faded to a 12. I’ll have to check my splits, but I think they were mostly 11s once I slowed. I forced myself, at mile 16 and 17, to run up and over the St. John’s bridge when everyone around me was walking. That was huge for my head. I realized then that I would hit a personal best today. It was no longer a question of whether, but of by how much? And once I hit mile 20, I heard myself think, “I can do a 10K no problem.” And I kept going. The physical part was hard, but the mental part felt…effortless.

I had expected to battle with emotions all day today because my heart still feels broken, and I associate so much of the brokenness with this place, but the tears didn’t come until I approached the finish line. And those I am sure were happy tears.

I just felt well today. I was expecting to hurt. I was expecting to be overtaken by sadness at times, but that just didn’t happen. I think a big part of my being okay came from the company I kept yesterday.

My friend Gretchen, who lives in Washington, drove down to spend the day with me. We met at Whidbey Island last November. While she was here, we did something I was hoping to do – we walked up to the top of Mt. Tabor Park and took pictures. We took pictures of the view of Portland, and as we were walking back down, Gretchen spotted a view of Mt. Hood that I would have missed had she not been there telling me to look. Gorgeous, no?

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We also spent some time at a cute little fabric store in the Alberta Arts District and ate lunch at a nearby Thai place. We even pulled into the train station to explore the inside because we were so charmed by the station’s exterior.

Gretchen gave me new and wonderful memories of Portland. That’s what I needed yesterday. I needed to be in this place in the company of a trusted friend.

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Thank you, Gretchen. I’m so grateful that you went out of your way to come here and gifted me with your time. You did my heart good yesterday, which made both yesterday and today incredibly special.

Rough Beginnings.

This trip to Portland had a rough beginning. My flight was delayed for two hours, which was fine, except that it meant sitting in a waiting area with lots of people who were heading to Portland for this marathon, all of whom seemed ridiculously stressed. I don’t bug easily, but they bugged me so much that I had to get up and move twice to get away from their craziness. But since getting on the plane, the trip has gotten much better.

I slept the entire flight. Two nights ago, I was up until after 1:00 a.m. because I had a friend over for dinner. Last night, I played tennis after work and then returned to the office until about 11:30 to get some things done. Last year, I cancelled my trip to Portland for the marathon because work was too busy. I was determined not to let that happen again, so I powered through my work, I packed well after midnight, and once I got on the flight, I slept. It was the sort of sleep that brought on dreams that were so vivid at the time but are completely lost to me now.

Portland

Since arriving in Portland, I went for a short run and ended my run at the hotel that was hosting packet pickup. I got my race bib and shirt, which I’m pleased to report is far too big on me. Then I bought an orange long sleeve shirt and a purple sweatshirt because a Texas girl needs lots of cold weather gear? I don’t know. I liked the orange, and I loved the saying on the sweatshirt: “run + done = happy.” I plan to wear it on Sunday after the race.

Then tonight, I had dinner at a fancier than I intended place next door to my hotel and finally finished Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, which I loved, and then I spent the evening at Powell’s Books at a reading by Linda Spalding. I didn’t know her before tonight, but I figured Powell’s would draw good authors, and I was right. It’s been a lovely night.

This is only my second time in Portland in the last year. I came just over a month ago for Hood to Coast and had a great time. This time I’m alone, though tomorrow I have a dear friend coming to spend the day with me. I’m feeling pretty raw being here. I’m having one of those nights where the tears are just below the surface of my smile and both the smile and the tears that I haven’t released are equally genuine.

I said before that I feel like this month is the end of what’s been a rough (but wonderful) year. This trip to Portland feels like a farewell of sorts. This town holds so much of my heart. It’s not my home, and it didn’t feel like my home even when it was for a short time. It’s just a place where a girl I once knew and a girl I once was spent some time what feels like a very long time ago.

I’ve come here to run a race, but mostly, I’ve come here to lay a dream to rest. I plan to do that by running my heart out on Sunday. I’m going to run as fast as I can. I’m going to pour my sweat and perhaps some tears and hopefully no blood all over this city that carries some of my most vivid dreams that are mostly lost to me now. And then I’m going to go home, to my real home, to the place where I live with Bread and Butter, and start again.

Run + done = happy.

A Shared Space.

Last night, I had a girlfriend over for dinner. I live out in the country, exactly 23 miles from downtown Austin. One of my dear friends jokes that I live so far out that she needs a passport to come visit. It’s obviously not that far, but the drive does keep people from just stopping by and often even from coming over at all. But this friend wanted to come. I think she has a thing for Bread, which I totally understand! He is a handsome little guy.

For nearly four hours, we talked at my kitchen table, nibbling on food much of the time. For the last hour, we began the process of saying goodnight and wandered my house and talked about different things. Alison admired my vast collection of books. I got to show her the Christmas cards from friends around the country that cover my refrigerator. I got to show her the blinds that Bread or Butter or perhaps both mutilated. As I showed her my piano room, she noticed a picture of my friend Jeff, who died in 2006, and that gave me an opportunity to tell her about what a special guy he was and what a beautiful relationship he had with a woman who loved him long before he realized it (though it was clear as day to me, silly boy) and who continues to love him more and more with each passing day. She even noticed the little Saint Gertrude statue that my friend Catherine gave me years ago. Saint Gertrude is, among other things, the patron saint of cats, so she lives high up on a shelf in my living room where she can keep a watchful eye on Bread and Butter for me.

I got to have conversations with Alison that could only happen in my space. And I loved every minute of it. I think Alison had fun too, at least in part because Bread warmed up to her incredibly quickly and even sat on her lap for a bit. That’s unusual for him. He’s a total love bug with me but incredibly shy around strangers.

When she left, not because we ran out of things to say but because it was nearly midnight, I walked back into my house, started to do the dishes, and caught myself smiling. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed having someone in my home.

I’ve spent much of the last year telling myself that I’m better off alone than with someone who is able to walk away from me – someone who is willing to do life without me. That’s true, I think. But I also think I’d started to warp my own message. I’d started to tell myself that I should be alone.

Last night, I was reminded how much I enjoy the company of another, how much I enjoy sharing space with another, and how much I do not desire to be alone, even if it’s easier than dealing with disappointment, even if it’s safer than trusting another completely, even if it’s less scary than trying again.

I’m grateful to Alison for making the drive, for being genuinely interested in who I am and how I am, and for helping me remember how wonderful it feels to share my home with another person. I needed that reminder.

Happy Almost New Years (To Me)!

I’m giddy that it’s October. I’ve been waiting for this month for almost an entire year. For the past year, I’ve been playing this game in my head of, “Oh, this time last year I was doing [fill in the blank]…” and the game made me sad because “this time last year” was really good. But for nearly a year now, I’ve lived without something I thought I couldn’t live without. And it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve made it. And by the end of this month, when I look back a year, I’ll be looking back on life as I know it now rather than the life I once had. That feels really good to me.

Part of me wants to kick the past year to the curb and say, “I never want to think of you again!” But if I do that, I’d be losing so much. I’d be losing my memories of my first season trail running, my fun house remodel, my time on Whidbey Island with an incredible group of women, my time at the Grand Canyon, my first time at Enchanted Rock, my first season of training with Natasha and TriDot, my trip to Barcelona, my doing the Barcelona marathon in nearly record time, an awesome weekend at a Jeanne Guy gathering, my getting through the St. George 70.3, my personal best at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, my trip to England and Germany for my family reunion, my reunion with my JBA friends, Hood to Coast, my time in Connecticut with Sarah and Mari-Eleanor, and so much more. It’s been a rich year, despite the cloud of sadness. And this cloud, like all clouds, has begun to dissipate as I’ve simplified my life, reconnected with old friends, made new friends and companions, and set out on adventures that even I didn’t anticipate.

I’m ready to look ahead. Before me, I have my Portland race this weekend, my Donald Miller conference in Nashville next weekend, a fun fall racing season, a return to Whidbey Island, opportunities to host old and new friends in my home, and my trip to Africa. And that’s all just during the end of 2013. The last eleven months have been pretty special. They were not what I expected. They were not necessarily what I would have chosen, had it all been up to me. But it’s been quite the year.

I don’t usually pack my time so fully. I don’t usually make three international trips in one year. I don’t usually travel once or twice a month to see friends or race in a new town. This has been a year of indulgence for sure, but I had to do something extreme this year to fill my heart and spirit in every way that I could. And I’d say I did a pretty damn good job of making the last eleven months more than a little worthwhile.

I’m so grateful for the passing of time and for the passing of time so richly. Happy October, everyone. Onward and upward.