A Track Workout.

On Sunday morning, I hit the track for mile repeats. My training plan called for at least two mile repeats on a 9:20 pace. I did this same workout back on February 23. Back then, I only managed two repeats and I barely hit my target time. I did the first at 9:18 and the second at 9:20 and felt so exhausted that I called it a day. Today, I managed four repeats and was much faster: 9:08, 9:00, 8:54 and 9:01. I might have had a fifth mile in me, but I called it a day at four. A good day. I like seeing progress, and today was definitely progress. Go me. Continue reading

Cry Me A River.

This weekend, my dear friend and I indulged in two movies – Her and August: Osage County, both of which made me grateful for this month of focus that I’ve set out for myself. My plan has been to step away from the computer and be more engaged with writing, my partner, my family, and my friends. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m more emotionally invested in technology than people, and I don’t want a life of estrangement from family. I felt like those films functioned as a cosmic affirmation of my plans for the month.

Then I heard from my mother late yesterday afternoon that Philip Seymour Hoffman died. What? How? Of a drug overdose? At 46?  Continue reading

Three Months to Africa.

In three months, I’ll be getting on a flight to Tanzania for my Kilimanjaro climb and safari adventure. That feels so strange to say because Africa was never on my list of things to do. The idea just came to me one day in mid June as I was thinking about possible ways to spend new years, and I decided to follow my heart even though I thought my heart might be crazy.

The first thing I did was mention the idea to my friend Matt who has done the climb. This was Sunday, June 16, days before I was leaving to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene. My thought was to set up a lunch for when I got back, but Matt was so excited that he responded to my e-mail on Monday with, “You have lunch plans today?” I didn’t, so we had lunch, and his enthusiasm was so complete that I walked away from that lunch committed in my own mind about the effort. I got back to my office and immediately requested information from the outfitter that Matt had used. When I got back from Coeur d’Alene, I reviewed the information they sent me and, on June 29, I put down my deposit. Acting in 13 days is record time for me, as I am perhaps the slowest decision-maker on the planet. I suppose I could have walked away from the deposit, but on August 7, I bought my ticket. Then I was in for sure. On September 3, the outfitter charged my credit card for the balance of what I owed. Then I was in for damn sure.

Now I’m buying travel insurance, rescue insurance, and health insurance for the trip. I’m looking at immunization lists and gear lists. I’m trying to figure out what I have and what I need and what I want for this trip. How will I charge my phone and camera on the climb? What will I carry in my day pack? Will I take paper books or an e-reader? How much can I pack in the duffel bag that porters will carry for me? What do I need to buy and what can I borrow from friends?

My Grand Canyon trip has helped because I now have a day pack, sleeping bag, hat and gloves. Hood to Coast helped me because I now have a compact pillow and small travel towels. Matt has helped by loaning me his trekking poles, which have been up the mountain before. He assures me that they know the way! But I need to figure out the clothes, especially because most of what I own no longer fits me. I’ve lost almost 19 pounds since January, so I’m having to buy new pants all around. Even the pants I bought in July with Rey are getting loose. At some point, I’ll do a big REI trip to buy a bunch of clothes and gear. That will be a fun effort.

But logistics aside, it’s hitting me that I’m going to Africa, and I’m going alone. My first international trip (to Italy and Greece) was with a girlfriend and her family. My second (to Spain) was to meet my friend Erin, who was studying there for a semester. My third (England and Germany) was for an extended family reunion on my dad’s side. This will be only my fourth big trip, and I’m flying for over 24 hours alone to climb a mountain in Africa with five other people I’ve never met. The me of two years ago before I’d done any international travel would never have done this.

Who have I become?

I’m someone who is turning forty in less than three months and doesn’t want being forty and alone to feel like…well, the way I expect forty and alone to feel. I want to appreciate that I have a wonderful job that allows me travel. I want to take advantage of not having kids and not being responsible for anyone but myself. I want to enjoy being able to book a trip on a whim – or as close to a whim as I’ve ever come – and seeing it through. I love people and want someone by my side, but I also want to be completely okay with being just me.

Africa is about me doing something I never thought I would do. It’s about proving to myself that I can adapt to a different and challenging environment, that I can enter a foreign territory with no one holding my hand, and that I can battle my way up to any finish line I choose to face. It’s about me trying something new and having fun. Africa is about me enjoying being forty and being forty the best way I know how.

I’m excited. And a little scared. But mostly, I’m excited. I can’t wait to get on the plane. This experience will be all my own, and I have a feeling I will come back changed somehow. I don’t know how, but I suspect it’ll be for the better.

Africa, I have high hopes for you and for me. I can’t wait for us to meet.

Wednesday List #24 – Rediscovering Austin Continued

My weekend of rediscovering Austin really got me thinking about things to do in Austin. It’s a great town, and I know I haven’t taken advantage of all that it has to offer. I’ve been forming a list of things I’d like to experience in the near future. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Do a trail run at Pedernales Falls State Park, which I’m scheduled to do on Saturday with Trailhead Running!
  2. Hike or run through McKinney Falls State Park.
  3. Visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and have lunch in their cafe.
  4. Spend a Thursday night (or two or three) at the Broken Spoke.
  5. Visit the Dripping Springs Public Library and get a library card.
  6. Visit the Blanton Museum of Art.
  7. Visit the Harry Ransom Center.
  8. Visit Donn’s Depot on a Monday night. (Mac? Join me?)
  9. Watch some improv at New Movement or the Hideout or both.
  10. Try a session at the Hot Lava Obstacle Course.  (Valerie, this one is all you.)
  11. Try stand up paddle-boarding on Lady Bird Lake.
  12. Go back to Uchiko. (Erin and Joe, I’m counting on you to do this with me when Erin visits!)
  13. Go to a show at the One World Theatre.
  14. Join Ride Like a Girl for some mountain biking. (The one and only time I’ve tried mountain biking about ten years ago, I looked terribly battered afterwards but had a great time. I need to get my bike tuned up.)
  15. Visit Travaasa, a cool-looking spa, preferably on a weekday as a reprieve from the regular work week.
  16. Participate in the activity that I’m still code-naming “Pedicures With Poppe.”

These are ideas. I’m always game for more. Feel free to pass along your suggestions!

Off in the Wilderness.

I’m having one of those days when I don’t have time to write, but I need the clarity that writing often gives me.

I’m leaving town this weekend. I’m going to Connecticut to see my high school doubles partner, with whom I reconnected ever so briefly at our 20-year reunion last year, and to see another friend from my days of clerking at a big law firm. I haven’t spent real time with either of them in years and am relishing the thought of shared company and catching up on who they are and how they’ve been.

In the meantime, I’m earning my days away. I suddenly have lots of work that needs to get done before I leave town. It’s all good stuff, and it’s satisfying to knock things off the list, but it’s stressful to also be adding things to it. I’m trying to figure out if I can get it all done and stick to the commitments I’ve made (dinner, a Toastmasters contest, and a writing session) these next few nights. I think I can. I’ve gotten so selective about giving up my evenings, that when I am booked, it’s lately been stuff I really want to do. This week is no exception.

I’m a little heavy today though. I think what’s got me down is that I don’t know if I’m capable of getting what I think I want. And I don’t know if I want the right things.

I want to share life with someone. But I don’t know if I can. It takes so much effort to find someone and to get to a point where I think I want to know more. Then it’s so much effort in getting to know more. And there are no guarantees. Months or years into something, it can fall apart. And then what? Do you start over? Or do you just accept that maybe this life – my life – is not meant to be shared in that way?

I had dinner last night with one of my dearest friends from law school. She is married, but she’s always found time to spend with me, either over a run or dinner or sometimes both. Last night, we cooked up some plans for a race, a spa day, and something else that I’m calling “Pedicures with Poppe” though it’s anything but. (I’m still simmering on the idea and am not ready to reveal it.) I laughed so much during dinner. It was delightful, and I didn’t feel like anything was lacking as we shared a meal and planned some future shenanigans.

Maybe my life is not about one person. Maybe it’s about lots of people. I have some of the most amazing friends. Like this woman, these guys, this girl, these folks, this girlthese ladies, and this crowd. Life with them is rich.

Maybe I’ve got my heart set on the wrong things. If Maria is right and life really is wise, then maybe I need to crave less and just be more. Be here. Be in Connecticut. Be on Whidbey Island. Be in Africa. These are all good places to be. Can I do that? Should I do that?

I’m not sure. On the one hand, it feels like giving up, and I don’t give up easily. On the other hand, it feels like embracing who I am, which I don’t do terribly easily either. But as I’ve gotten older, I do like myself more and more. I no longer take on the hobbies and interests of the people I date. I have my own, and I love them. I no longer rush to be a part of someone else’s life. I take my time in figuring out if they have a place in mine. I like nearly 40-year-old me far more than I ever liked 25-year-old me.

I’ve never been one of those girls who was always in a relationship. I’ve never gone from one right to another. My relationships have never been about needing/wanting someone. They’ve always been about needing/wanting that person in particular. I think of the line from Say Anything when Diane is wanting to get back together with Lloyd and he says, “Are you here because you need someone? Or you need me?” He pauses and then says, “Forget it. I don’t care.”  I do care. I care very much.

Maybe we aren’t all wired for relationships. Maybe the person who is supposed to care about me – and love me fully – is me.

If that’s true, it makes me a little sad. It also takes the pressure off. I trust me. I know I’m good at loving others and building them up and helping them believe there’s nothing they can’t do. Maybe I’m the one who is supposed to do those things for myself.

I just don’t know.

Africa Is Happening.

In mid-June, I started thinking about a trip to Africa. Africa had never been on my list of places I wanted to go, but as I thought about turning 40 and doing so alone, I knew I wanted to do something grand for my birthday. I also knew that I did not want to spend New Years at home alone, so I started looking at REI’s website for adventure trips in late December. Almost immediately, I felt drawn to the thought of hiking up the highest mountain in Africa.

So what if it takes forever to travel to Africa and I’ll be travelling alone? So what if the foreignness of Africa scares me? So what if I’ve never been in altitude? So what if I have to get injections or take drugs to keep from getting sick? So what if I’m sleeping in a tent and not showering every day? I can do this. More than that, I need to do this. I need to know that I can put myself in any unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable situation and, not just survive, but enjoy it.

Someone recently told me that I’m not capable of change, and I cannot let that be true.

It’s true that I’ve lived in the same town for more than twenty years, that I’ve been in one line of work, mostly with one firm, the entire time, and that I’m a person who takes comfort in routine and familiarity. It’s also true that I hold tight to my family and friends. I have friends I’ve had since elementary school, middle school, and high school because I value people. Once I love them, I don’t let go easily. I email. I phone. I reach out regularly. If I cause hurt, I ask forgiveness, even when walking away would be easier. If I am hurt, I offer forgiveness where I think forgiveness is genuinely sought. I have a history of dedication and commitment to my work and the people I love. I think all of that is good and that to reframe all of that as a condemnation of me as unable to adapt is a mistake.

Then I worry. Is it true that I can’t change? I talked for three or four years about moving out of Austin proper into the country before I actually did it. It took years of thinking about writing before I made any externally visible efforts to actually write for magazines or other people. It takes me months to move myself mentally from the I’m-getting-to-know-you phase into the we’re-dating phase. I’m slow to make decisions, whether the decisions involve a major life change or buying a blender. I consider and debate and coax myself into action, big and little. And sometimes that means long periods of uncertainty and what appears to be inaction to the outside observer. Does my slowness mean I’m not moving towards change or that I’m incapable of it? I don’t think so.

So this Africa thing is about climbing Kilimanjaro about as much as my Ironman thing is about earning the M-dot status. It’s really about my life, who I want to be, and what I need to know is true about me.

I bought my plane ticket today. It took me almost two months, but I did it. I’m in. The plans are made, and the money is spent. I’m going to Africa.

JBA Forever.

In 1987, I got invited to travel to England to play tennis as part of some kind of U.S. national team. I was thrilled. My mom was thrilled that I was good enough to be invited, but she didn’t like the idea of sending me overseas at thirteen years of age. Rather than send me, she came up with an alternative – nerd camp in Kirksville, Missouri. At the time, I didn’t think the two opportunities were in any way comparable, but I was thirteen and had no say, so off to Kirksville I went. “Thanks for nothing, Mother,” I thought as I hopped a flight for the Joseph Baldwin Academy. But in no time at all, I was so glad I went. In fact, I loved it so much that I returned in 1988 and 1989.

In the summer 1988 I met and fell in love with John, Kate and Andy, three people who hold a special place in my heart even today.

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Taline and John

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Kate and Andy

At nerd camp, we were in class from 9 to 12 and 1 to 4:30. Then we were in study hall from 6 to 7:30. (I might have those times slightly wrong, but you get the gist of our schedule.) We lived in the dorms together. We shared meals together. And we hung out. I took Shakespeare in 1987, Writing in 1988 and Logic in 1989. I know I learned things those summers, but mostly I remember loving the people and feeling loved by them. I remember wanting to write as well as Kate did, wanting to be smart and funny enough that someone like John would want me around, and wanting to believe that all guys were as kind and decent as I believed Andy to be. I remember waking up early in the mornings and hurrying downstairs to the dorm’s lobby, anxious to start my day with my friends. I remember staying up as late as I possibly could, not wanting to miss a moment of the laughter or antics in the dorm. I remember believing that I had found the best friends ever. At JBA, I felt known and understood. And I was.

After leaving JBA, we wrote one another letters, and I waited for the mail with anxious anticipation for a missive from one of my friends. Over the years, we stayed in contact most of the time. Kate and I went to John’s wedding together. Andy and John both visited me during college. John went to Atlanta with me to be my date to the wedding of some dear friends of mine. We emailed. We called. And eventually we connected on Facebook. Before Andy was on Facebook, he told me to look up his wife because she would have lots of pictures of their kids. So I did. For years, I’ve been observing their lives. With each call, email and post, I’ve fallen more and more in love with my friends and their families.

Early last October, it occurred to me that this summer would mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of our meeting, so I rallied my friends to attend a reunion, not in Kirksville, but in Cambridge, Iowa, on Andy’s farm. This past weekend, I went to the farm to meet Andy, his wife Laura Lynn, and their six children, John and his two children, and Kate and her two children. I knew it would be a special time. Kate was apparently somewhat skeptical, but I was completely confident we would enjoy one another. What I didn’t know was how much the weekend would matter to me.

This has been a tough year for me. I have felt loss. I have felt lost. I have felt old and unsure of my place in the world. I have felt lonely. But this weekend, I felt the joy of being in the company of friends. In their company, I was reminded of the younger version of myself that once existed. She was smart, determined, kind and incredibly hopeful in all things. I realized that I haven’t changed all that much, except perhaps in the hopefulness.

Not one of us has really changed. I’m still the quietest of the group. John’s still the most bold and funny. Kate’s still the most feeling and creative. And Andy still has a smile that makes me think he knows something the rest of us don’t. We are very much our kid selves in grown up form. Most importantly, we listened and loved just as we did when we were kids. John still challenged me to take risks. Kate still challenged me to embrace emotion and be vulnerable. Andy still challenged me to look outside myself and to receive grace. I even felt challenged by Laura Lynn. She is a fascinating combination of soft and strong, and she has an unwavering belief that she can figure anything out – how to make something, how to fix something, how to get something done. And she can.

As I returned to that place in my mind where I am fourteen and fifteen years old, my heart broke for the kid I once was, for the adult I thought I’d be, and the future I want to believe I still can have. Risk. Emotion. Vulnerability. Grace. Confidence that I will find my way. My friends mirrored for me the kid who went to Kirksville and fell deeply for the people she met there. It was good to see her again.

It was good to see all of my friends again and to make new ones. After this sweet and much needed weekend in the company of my friends, I look forward to what’s to come in all of our lives, including mine.

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John, Taline, Andy and Kate

The Way, Way Back.

I haven’t written since coming home from England and Germany where I spent time with my extended family, some of whom I’d never met. I’ve had a lot rolling around in my mind about the trip. How much I loved the travel itself. How much I enjoyed being in the homes of my aunts and uncles who cared for me just as they would their own kids. How strange it was to be around so many people who look so much like me. How much I loved learning about my mom and dad from people who’ve known them much longer than I have. It was an incredible trip.

What surprised me on this trip was that I felt alone at times even though I was surrounded by people I love and who love me. I realized that, for me, companionship isn’t just about being loved. It’s about being known too. Over time, I know that I will develop relationships with my extended family where I know them and am known by them. The trip gave me that certainty, and I’m so grateful for what I know will happen between and among us. But the experience with my family – spending day and night with dozens of people who would do anything for me but still feeling lonely – hit home for me how much I need to be known in order to feel genuinely loved.

That’s a hard thing. It’s hard for me to allow myself to be known. It seems weird to type those words on something I’m going to post publicly, but the reality is that the self that comes through on this blog is as artificial as the image I create for myself on Facebook. It’s not a complete picture of who I am or what’s happening in my life. You see the bits and pieces that I choose for you to see.

A truth about me is that I’m slow to enter relationships where I allow myself to be known. I’m slow because I’m fearful that people won’t like what they see or that they’ll take all the things I don’t like about myself and wrap them up and give them back to me as all the reasons why they don’t, won’t or can’t care for me. I have reason to be fearful. That’s happened a few times in my life in friendships and relationships. With each experience, I have wondered if I can be brave enough to try again.

But I think I found a little courage today. I saw a movie called The Way, Way Back. It’s a beautiful story about the power of one person’s belief in another.  I laughed and cried and responded, almost physically, to what was happening on the screen. And I realized that there is nothing more beautiful than two people bringing out the very best in one another by loving one another as they are. They didn’t enter the relationship trying to change one another. They just loved and believed, and through that love and unwavering encouragement, the changes happened.

I’ve been isolating myself a bit. I’ve been trying to change all the things about myself that I don’t love. Generally, that’s a good thing. It’s good for me to lose weight and work on my speed and take dance lessons and be more adventurous in travel and put myself in environments where I don’t know people and where I have to adapt myself to an uncomfortable situation. Those are all good things. But I’m wrong to think that I need to fix myself before I can let another person see who I am. If I’m trying to prepare and present a “better” version of myself to the next person, then I’m going to feel lonely because they won’t know me as I really am. But if I am willing to step out and love and be loved as I am and make those and other changes with the help of someone who wants to love me through them, then I can become a better or even best version of myself and be known. I want those two things for myself, and I want to offer those two things to someone else. Obviously, I can’t do that in isolation.

I am good – really good – at believing in other people and offering them unwavering love and encouragement. I think I’m ready to look for someone who will offer the same to me. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop the efforts I’ve been making in this period of isolation. I like what I’ve been doing. I’m back in the 120s in terms of weight. I am running and biking faster than I ever have as an adult. I’ve learned how to two-step and swing. I’m going to Africa of all places later this year. These are all good changes that I’ve made. But I’m ready to step out of isolation, even though stepping out is a bit scary.

I will proceed cautiously, trusting my own reservations if I have them.  But I want in my life the beauty that I saw on the screen. I believe in it. And if I tell you that I don’t believe in it, know that I’m lying to you out of my own fears. Because I do.

"How Are You?" Matters

It hit me today that “How are you?” is an important question. When someone asks, do they really want to know? And when I answer, am I being genuine with them?

I’ve been studying my relationships to identify the people in my life who ask a real question and get a real answer. I don’t expect everyone to have that level of intimacy with me, as I’m not capable of having that level of intimacy with everyone. I see value in acquaintances, in relationships that involve mutual cheerleading, and in relationships from childhood that remind us of the kids we once were. Those are all good relationships. But I want some relationships that demand truth. I want some relationships that regularly ask the question “How are you?” and always insist on a real answer.

For a long time, I thought I wanted only one person in that role, but I’ve learned that I need more than one because sometimes people exit your life unexpectedly. Sometimes they want to go. Sometimes you show them the door. Either way, the end result is the same: a once trusted person is gone and what remains is a hole of doubt and uncertainty. Who will care about me now? Who will trust me to love them? When something exceedingly good or bad happens, who will I call? Who will call me? Will I have confidence in my ability to identify the permanent connections from the temporary ones? It’s hard not knowing how to answer those questions.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and energy in the last six months trying to answer those questions for myself. Today, I realized that I’ve been limiting myself in trying to come up with a single answer. For me, there is no one answer. There are answers. There are the people who call and text and email to ask how I am and to tell me they’ve been thinking about me. Some want to make dinner plans. Some want to make workout plans. Some want to make vacation plans. Some just want to talk. There are also people I reach out to because I know they’ll understand why something is incredible or awful. I’ve been overwhelmed by these people this week.

I crave real connections. I am desperate to understand and be understood. And I’m so grateful when someone in my life – whether they are a new friend, an old friend or a downright ancient friend – reaches out and asks me, “How are you?” and gives me the freedom to say, “I’m a mixed bag right now.” Because the truth is, I am a mixed bag. Thank you for asking. Tell me, how are you?