Monday, November 29, 2010

The Unit

This month's book club selection was The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.  It was a translation so parts of the language were a little flat but what a great read if you're looking for something to fire you up!  A fictional novel about a futuristic society where 50-year old childless women and 60-year old childless men with "unnecessary" jobs are deemed dispensable and required to check themselves into a Biological Reserve Unit where they are forced to donate blood and organs while participating in "humane" experiments until time for their final donation (aka euthanized) - all while living expense free and wanting for nothing.  While it is based on a futuristic society it mirrors our own in many ways, vaguely telling how the leaders of the society made small changes that spanned almost the lifetime of the main character - a woman raised by a forward-thinking mother who warned her against ever being trapped into being dependent on anyone besides herself. Next thing she knows, she's a writer who's always just gotten by, never found herself pregnant and now 50 and dispensable heading into the Unit for her final days.  The final days that ended with a twist and makes you think about what you would do in her shoes.

I can't lie - the feminist in me as well as the writer HATED this world and all it stood for and I found myself marking pages for quotes and scribbling three pages of notes as I read so I wouldn't forget a single topic for the book club discussion.  (The discussion was one of the most heated on record.)  This book is not about character development but is instead about very deep ethical and moral topics delivered in a thought provoking story.  I recommend it for anyone and everyone!  Regardless of your views you are bound to feel an emotional response to this fabulous little read! 

One word of caution to those more "sensitive" readers.  This book was originally published in Europe where sex is viewed and discussed in a much more plaintive way.  Many in my book club found that aspect to be superlative and at times even distasteful.  I've read smuttier so this in no way was trashy but may be a bit stark to those who have never experienced a more European outlook on the relations between men and women.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe

Great book club pick for October and anyone looking for an alternative take on the Salem Witch Trials.  Imagine if it wasn't moldy bread at work with those girls and their fits but actual witchcraft?  And then imagine if that witchcraft were written down in a book...  Oh, the possibilities!

A fun and light read refreshingly filled with sophisticated words - a nice change after so many YA novels of late.  Although the characters were a bit predictable at times with little depth, the story is one that holds your interest until the end.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maybe a change of scenery would help?

We've passed the halfway mark of November and NaNoWriMo... which means I should have at least 25,000 words written of the requisite 50,0000 if I'm doing the slow and steady wins the race approach.  I've fully recovered from the half marathon insanity and am still running three times a week - much smaller distances now - and have switched my focus to writing.  So why do I only have 8300 words written?!?

I've learned several things so far this year.  First, there is a huge difference between being six months pregnant and attempting to push through pregnancy exhaustion to stay up late so you can write a novel in a month and trying to find time to write with a 9 month old who is highly mobile and needs constant care.  Baby Sister also chose November to decide that by staying on her well-established daytime nap schedule meant staying up until after ten so Mommy can't write until way late every night; on top of no extra time while she is awake, of course.  It is what it is... and it's one reason I think coffee was invented!

Second, all novel ideas are not created equally.  I wasn't very focused on writing in the weeks leading up to November and didn't really have a "great" idea for this year's novel.  Last year my idea was amazing and I had several months to work out at least who my characters were and the basic idea of the story.  Not this year!  I conjured up a little nugget of something based on a "what if" kind of situation and tried to flesh out an entire novel from that nugget.  It took me down a path I knew little about so I decided to do some research and tapped into a friend's vast knowledge of genealogy to help make the story more believable and authentic.  She is a natural story teller and the next thing I knew my little nugget had morphed into her version of a story that had little resemblance to what I had first been inspired by - authentic and believable to boot.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and I was totally fired up to write THAT story... until a few days into trying to do it when the spark died.  The characters were blah, the story was blah and I was not feeling it... at all. And it showed in my dismal word count that didn't grow much that first week.

So I abandoned that fragment and decided to start writing something else.  Remember my first short story?  The one that sucked but was packed with tons of emotions?  I thought it would be cool to flesh that story out so I started to.  But I still didn't feel it after I wrote the initial opening scene.  *sigh*  Now what?

At that point I got a really great pep talk in email that somehow was written just for me.  Bottom line, NaNoWriMo is not about writing a polished novel and if it is a ton of tangents that you feel like writing and have only a flimsy relation to one another but still add up to 50,000 words then you still did it. Okay, so just keep writing!

What I ended up doing is pulling out the really great idea I've been working on for two years and instead of revising - the idea of which overwhelmed me - I decided to start over... again.  It began as a mere exercise in rationalization that, in my brain, went something like this:

I wonder if I could just rewrite the prologue... just to get me back on track... yeah, I think that's a great idea!

And several thousand words later I have a fabulous prologue where before there was only a shadow of it.  The action starts in a completely different place, the characters are much more believable, and most importantly, I'm inspired again.  I'm going to just keep going on the re-write instead of a revision of what I've already written.  I know what happens in each scene so just re-do them with a different eye this time around.  At this point I have to write something insane like 3000 words a day to finish on time but I'm willing to try!

So, although I did move my writing chair to a different spot for a change of scenery hoping to inspire, it is really just the inspiration of a great idea that I really needed.  Wish me luck!  If you need me, I'll be writing...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Half Marathon Recap

I DID IT!  I finished my first half marathon and lived to tell about it... which I will now attempt to do here - hopefully coherently.

I went into the event weekend totally stressed out about everything EXCEPT the actual run.  Since the race was about an hour from home and we had to report to the busing area to get to the starting line at an ungodly hour of the morning, we decided to spend the night with my cousin - ironically the very cousin who started me on the running path and turned me on to this particular race.  It was Halloween at school so I had to juggle attending festivities for Big Sister and working Friday; plus leaving early enough at the end of the day to get all our gear packed for the night; AND stop at a baby shower for a friend on the way - both hubby and the kids in tow.  (Yeah, I know!  Could I have had one more thing on THAT day?  I don't think so!)  I had gotten very little sleep all week with the craziness that is my life normally but had been properly hydrating for the days leading up to the morning of the race.

Before heading out, I packed one of every kind of running gear I own - short sleeves, long sleeves, etc - not knowing exactly what the weather was going to be like until that morning.  And since I wouldn't be at home, I wanted to keep my options open.  (No, this was not about fashion although I will admit to stressing about what I wear to get all sweaty in entirely too much!)  After we rendezvoused at my cousin's place and got the kids settled and into bed she and I started talking running and cold weather and what to wear.  By the time we got to bed, it was after eleven.  Ouch!  We had to be dressed and out the door by 6:00 am to make the last bus to the start.

I woke up excited and nervous - the same feeling I used to get on Christmas morning when I was a kid.  The weather was cold - about 45 degrees at the start at 6800 ft elevation.  BRRRR!  But, I'd be running so I had to dress appropriately - what a strategy that requires!  I decided to wear my long sleeve wicking "Halloween Half" official running shirt that came in my race packet, a long sleeve fleece and a running jacket plus gloves and an ear warmer since we would have to stay warm at the top for an hour after our bus ride before the race started.

We got to the designated mall parking lot to meet our buses and head to the start and it hit me how HUGE this race was.  There were a ton of people.  I had heard numbers thrown around on all the Facebook posts and all my communication emails from the race staff and knew there were like 2500 runners registered.  Which, don't get me wrong, is a huge number but seeing that many actual people lined up to get on buses was seriously awesome.  Picture it:  a huge mall with a Costco in one corner of the massive parking lot.  15-20 buses lined up down the center of the parking lot and a line of people stretching down parallel to the line of buses and eventually curving back in around itself at the back of the lot.  (It looked like the line to get tickets for a Neil Diamond concert I stood in when wristbands were new in the 90's and I had to do insane things for my parents still!)  We met up with all the people I knew who were planning to start out together and got in line.

I hadn't had much sleep and I hadn't had time for any coffee since we slept in (and it isn't good to drink it on race day anyway!) and perhaps that explained why I went nuts when I saw what was happening with the bus loading logistics.  Regardless of the reason, the performance analyst in me started noticing this weird thing happening... they were only allowing people on the very first bus even though we were lined up going right past ALL the buses. Why are we not loading ALL the buses?!?  I have to walk past FIVE BUSES to get to the front of the line to get on the FIRST bus?  Clearly they did not have anyone with the proper skills overseeing this aspect of race logistics.  As it happened, I was in line with several others of the same mindset and we started feeding off of each other about how insane it was.  I know I got worked up enough that the "F-bomb" got dropped numerous times - it was COLD! - and still we stood right alongside empty buses unable to get on board.  Perhaps my loud-mouthed obnoxiousness will benefit racers for next year since we noticed that they had begun loading multiple buses as we were FINALLY getting on board the lead bus.  One can only hope!

The bus ride was slow because the bus in front of us was broken and could barely make it up the canyon but at least it was warm.  The approximately one hour wait in the tent they had erected at the top of the course was cold but passed quickly.  The line of 50 portable outhouses at the top was our first stop as we got off the bus on the way to the tent and - as hindsight will show - SHOULD have been my last stop on the way to the starting line half an hour later.

The course started at the top of a scenic side-road of Provo Canyon above the Sundance Resort - yes, THAT Sundance - and, after five miles of super steep 8% incline descent, joined up with a parkway trail that wound out of the canyon and along the river to the finish line.  I had done 10.7 miles the week before and seriously was not worried about adding another couple of miles.  My mindset was great; I knew my only goal was to finish and would most likely be in the back of the pack but it wouldn't matter.

The gun cracked and the mass of people slowly got underway... only to be hampered by a van parked in the middle of the narrow road before the first turn - left there by some dumb ass who clearly wasn't supposed to have left it there.  I ran down a little embankment of bushes hoping not to get mired in all the people backing up but not sure if it mattered much since everyone else around me had the same idea.  Once we all got around that obstacle and were really underway, I waved goodbye to all my running buddies as they passed me and settled in for the long run which I was hoping to finish in less than three and a half hours.

The first five miles were A-MAZ-ING!  I ran my fastest mile ever on the second mile and was even passing people.  But remember, I've been training for downhill and I LOVE downhill.  About mile two I was shedding my first layer of clothing... gloves and ear warmer into the jacket pockets and eventually the jacket tied around my waist.  About mile four I was shedding the second layer of fleece which also went around my waist.  Call me a cheapskate, but I am not at the stage where I'll just throw perfectly good running gear on the ground and run away never to see it again!  Plus, I could never bring myself to willfully litter like that!  *gasp*  At the bottom of the scenic and steep part, I had been averaging ten-minute miles and thinking a two and a half hour time might be within my grasp since I was still feeling super good and having a blast.

And then we got into the canyon proper section of the course... and it was NOT downhill!  And not only was it not downhill, it was a slight INCLINE uphill!  What?!  You're kidding, right?  Luckily it was time for an aid station with water and time to eat my Gu fuel - which for those unfamiliar is like squeezing a tube of icing into your mouth and washing it down with some water.  I couldn't find the chocolate flavored one that I like the best and had opted for mandarin orange flavor.  The important part is that I had a valid reason to be walking for a short distance while I refueled so I could kind of recover from the little bit of uphill before hitting the parkway, which I expected to return to the downhill I had been promised...

Only it wasn't downhill...

The next two miles were uphill and reality hit me that I should NOT have been going so fast the first five miles because now I had little gas left especially for uphill.  But, I pushed on and ran most of the next two miles but walked on the steepest sections.  Because I was walking some my hips started hurting, and my feet were swelling and my mind was screaming 'you can't do this!' and then I would argue with myself that 'yes, you can damnit!  You ran eleven miles a week ago!"  About this same time, on top of everything else, I realized that I was going to need to pee before the finish line and started obsessing about how I was or wasn't going to accomplish this.  I passed a couple of outhouses but there were people already waiting and I was NOT going to stop to wait and increase my time that much.  So I ran on and then there was another aid station and I walked a bit to drink some water - since I had decided not to carry my own this time which I normally do - and then I had to stop to stretch because I was starting to cramp up in my calves.  Basically miles eight and nine are a blur of pain and needing to pee and forcing myself to keep running.  At some point in this stretch we ran through the most gorgeous section of trail covered with fall leaves and even though I was feeling okay still at this point and still mostly running I slowed down enough to take my phone out of my pocket and snap a picture.  It was THAT beautiful, don't you think?

Just before mile 10, the course flattened out and was fairly enjoyable and mostly downhill with only rolling hills.  I would have loved it if I hadn't been in so much pain and needing to pee SO BAD.  I finally spotted an inviting little path off to the side of the trail that went for a ways and then turned a corner and was densely wooded - you know where this is going, don't you!  Yes, I did the runner's dash into the bushes and relieved my poor bladder with only a minimum of wasted time.  I surprised a lady when I burst back onto the trail and I'm sure she was thinking "that girl is nuts!"  I didn't care because I felt so much better!  (Note to self:  always go before you start even if you don't think you need to... my Mom will be so proud that I have kept this lesson of childhood and found ways to still apply it!)

At this point I want to remind you that I had previously only ever run eleven miles - and much slower and not so steeply downhill.  Oh, the pain of miles 10 through 13!  My hip felt like it was going to slip out of alignment at every step (I sheepishly admit to slacking on my physical therapy which now I know will remain important forever and ever because of my hip issue...)  And my feet were so swollen that literally every step was agony.  About 10.5 miles in, I was doing more walking than running and just hoping to finish before the sag wagon came through picking up stragglers who would be marked as "Did Not Finish" because it had been 4 hours and they could no longer insure everyone's safety for the event.  I had an epiphany at the last aid station and remembered that I had more "shot blocks" in my pocket.  HELLO! I had been so focused on pushing through to the end I'd forgotten to fuel.  Well, that and I had never run long enough that I needed to fuel twice mid-run.  So, I chewed up my energy shots and almost immediately felt better.  Thinking that I could probably - just probably - finish.  I pushed myself to speed walk when I was walking and run in stints even though I didn't think I could run another step.

And then I got to what I refer to as the crying section around mile 11...  because don't you know running is for sissies!?  At first I was crying because of the pain.  Then I was crying because I didn't think I could make it.  And then I was crying because I was thinking that maybe I could make it.  In between all these instances of tearing up I was mentally smacking myself and telling myself to "suck it up you crazy bitch!" and other such inspiring personal pep talks.  (Anyone who doesn't think running is a mental sport clearly has never run a long distance race.)  I had my iPod in my ears and probably should apologize for all the profanity I was saying under my breath but was probably loud enough that everyone around me could hear it...

About halfway through mile 12 when I realized that I was, indeed, probably going to finish I started thinking about my cheering section waiting for me.  My hubby, my daughters, all my friends ... they would all be cheering me on - because certainly I was the last of them to finish for sure.  And then I was crying again at just the thought of how it would feel to see them and cross the finish line.  More slapping myself and trying to pull it together and forcing myself to run and wondering where the FUCK the end was...  yes, I was kind of delirious at this point. 

Here's a big note to self:  I don't care how far you've run before, adding another 2 miles to your longest distance is always going to be a big deal... dumb ass!

And then, just when I thought it would never come, I rounded the last corner and there was my family and friends and, even though I'd spent a half mile pulling myself together so I could pass them with dignity, I started crying like a big baby... again.  This time I didn't care and just ran and posed for pictures and continued on to the finish line to collect my hard earned medal.  Big Sister hugged me as I passed, Hubby relieved me of my extra jackets around my waits and my running partner said the one thing I needed to hear: "Keep going, the finish is right there!"  As I ran past a line of fellow runners waiting to get on the bus they fed off my personal cheering section and had their hands out for high-fives as I passed - including my neighbor who was the one person I hadn't seen at the start that morning. 

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 3 hours and 22 minutes... almost ten minutes faster than my average training pace and with plenty of room for improvement for next time (and 38 minutes before the sag wagon would start it's journey to collect the stragglers!)

Wait... did she just say NEXT time?

Yes, I said next time.  It's been a week now since the race... my muscles are barely sore anymore, my foot doesn't hurt too much for heels again, I don't wince walking up and down stairs, and I'm planning to resume my running on Sunday.  Sadly, my days of only downhill must come to an end, I need to increase my endurance and ability to run regardless of the terrain and start getting ready for the next big adventure:  Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay 2011, where I will run a total of 21 miles in the course of two days.  There's already another half marathon tentatively in the works for April.  One without all the crazy extreme downhill this time!  Stay tuned, what an adventure it is sure to be!