It’s a Marathon AND a Sprint

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PC: Jose Revuelta, Flea Market Comics. Check out more art here

I left work early on Wednesday, went home, and wept. I just bawled. It was all too much. And it was only Wednesday.

Our campus observed Holocaust Remembrance Week this past week. On Friday, we hosted a dialogue about the future of politics in the United States. I see the exhaustion. I see the fear. I see the overwhelming sense of hopelessness, and I admit: I feel it too.

Not for myself. One of the ickiest thoughts that has floated through my overcrowded brain this week was “if I did nothing, if I had no idea what was happening in our country…I would be blissfully ignorant. I could go about my daily tasks and probably notice nothing. And I heard phrases like, “It’ll be ok, he’s just crazy..” or “Stay strong!” UGH. I understand the desire to deescalate a situation for coping sake, but…I just can’t. This is horrible. So many people are really, really suffering. And as a Buddhist I know, that suffering begets suffering, and it affects us all.

Of course my students feel overwhelmed and in despair. There is no end in sight. It feels as though we are fighting not only an uphill battle, but one behind a giant steel wall! (sorry, that was just too real.) I try to tell myself to keep working, keep putting on a strong face for my students that I love, but on Wednesday I just couldn’t any longer. Recognizing when we need to take a moment to breathe is important, because the situation is both urgent and will be a long haul.

I ran 16 miles today, the most I have ever run. I felt great: there were thousands of people on the course today. Every few miles a group was giving away water and snacks. I ran the last half of the course with a new friend who teaches near my home in Boston. Not bad for a self-care Saturday.

When I got home, I looked at my training schedule. Almost half way through the 18 weeks before the big race day. Suddenly I felt anxious: The mileage only increases. I will need to carve out more time and need more strength to keep to my plan. I have to be efficient, make good food choices, and no matter what, not give up. There is no skipping a day, even in the rain, the snow, after eating too much cake.

Consider this time a marathon AND a sprint: the urgency is NOW, dammit. Shit already hit the fan and is now spreading around the room. I think my marathon training is symbolic of the work cut out for me and the people I look up to, leading the charge. We’ve got to contribute in every way possible and not skip a day. At the same time, we need to suck down that weird GU to stay fueled- take moments of rest to recharge. And there are others among us, at every step. Our paces may be different but we’re running toward the same place. I’m sustaining my energy off the communities I graciously get to find solace in, and take wisdom from. One foot in front of the other.

I don’t have any words of wisdom today, or even a “let’s be hopeful!” message, except that I know some pretty damn amazing people working their asses off and I’m lucky to call myself a fan/supporter/hopeful ally (NOT ally- working toward it). Revolutionary Love today, every day.

 

Womens’ March: How Art Will Save Us

On Thursday evening, my writing class got real. We talked about self-care through the arduous process. The craft of writing, especially memoir and personal non-fiction, is wrought with danger. We bring our most vulnerable pieces forward, public: here is my brokenness. Of course, we couldn’t help talking about what would happen the next day.

I’ve never considered myself an artist. My sister, yes- at age 10, people asked to buy her paintings. She has that unique ability to make animals (her favorite subject) look real on the canvas. The closest I’ve come to pursuing a career in fine art is my wearing wild clothing in many different colors. Regardless, my appreciation for art has never waned. I find art soothing, a reminder that there are myriad ways to express our pain, joy, and everything in between. Words are my “art,” and sometimes words fall short. Nevertheless, I find myself consumed in books much of the time, looking for inspiration in my own craft.

Running for me has also become an art. Yesterday I joined a marathon running group and headed to Riverside for an 11-mile run. We faced the notorious Newton Hills: miles 17-21 on the Boston Marathon course. The final uphill portion has earned the name “Heartbreak Hill”, on which runners have struggled since the beginning of time (ok, no. But since the beginning of the Boston Marathon, yes) after some intense downhill for the first half of the course. For the last year, I’ve run alone the majority of training, but this time I was transformed by the power of running with others.

Yesterday I learned that running is so personal, of course, but requires the art of community building. Thousands of people climbed the hills yesterday, and as I clomped by Boston College’s campus I marveled at the pleasantries exchanged between strangers, even though we all must have felt exhausted (my knees were screaming at me).

As I neared the end of the run at Fenway Park, I started to see the signs. I mean the actual signs people were carrying to the march. Some were bigger than me! And the sass, oh the sass. It dawned on me: In this time of great divide, Art will save us.

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Because the trains were packed, I decided walking another mile and a half wouldn’t kill me. There were more and more signs as the crowd neared Boston Common. Then I saw the buses.

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Buses and buses and BUSES. And beyond the buses, a sea of pink hats. The entire Boston Common, the same park I had run through only days before, was entirely covered in bodies. I had never seen anything like it.

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I admit to feeling a bit disappointed the previous day. Many of my students, colleagues, and friends had made the trek to our nation’s capitol to literally March on Washington. Why didn’t I get my act together to witness history? Looking before this very crowd, I knew this was where I was meant to be. Boston: the runner’s city, the home of some of the first abolitionists, the site of the first siege that began the Revolution. Scrolling through Facebook and Twitter my heart leaped again: my beloved Chicago, home for three years, the place I met my love, the city of incredible hospitality, had SHUT DOWN THEIR OWN MARCH BECAUSE SO MANY PEOPLE CAME OUT. BOOM. And THEN- my one and only home, the place my heart stays, the City of Angels, rocked the entirety of downtown with signs in multiple languages. My partner and I exchanged pictures of the best signs and posters around us. Sister marches around the world (yes, the world!) all the way to Antarctica popped up in my newsfeeds.

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Art will save us. Not the paper, the glitter, or the sass (though the humor really enlivened us) but the creativity. You cannot regulate art, you cannot control the visions of the innovative. And in these days, I believe that the creativity we witnessed this past week gives us fire to keep finding alternative ways of action. I’m claiming myself an artist. I will strive to be creative and think big. I’m so thrilled by the showing up for each other yesterday- it’s one day, and we’ve got quite a few more. Blessings to the artists, you are leading us.

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Santa, Interrupted

The snow finally came (and went, mostly). They say in Boston proper, we got about 3-4 inches. Do you know what I did as the snow pelted from the sky Saturday morning? That’s right. I drove 49 miles to Gloucester to run a 5-mile Santa suit road race because I wasn’t going to miss it. As I walked to pick up the Zipcar, I looked out onto the ocean. Usually I can see all the way to downtown Boston and the skyscrapers. I could barely see the water, let alone across it.

You know how when it snows, the air is quiet? There’s no wind. Especially on a Saturday morning when most people would look out the window and rationally go, “nope.” My running shoes, now soaking wet of course, crunched through the snow until I reached the car. As a Californian, driving in the snow seems ludicrous. What I also didn’t remember is that when cars are parked outside, they require brushing off because there’s a giant white mound of frozen water on top, and one cannot see out the windows if it’s there. I grabbed the brush from the trunk and proceeded to wipe the front windshield. My hand froze almost immediately as the brush slipped around, scattering the snow everywhere. It even got in my shirt. Finally I was ready to begin the treacherous drive to Gloucester for the most ridiculous race I have ever run.

Cars crawled along all the way up the 128. Trucks spewing salt passed me, then plows, then this sand-dirt business. Some vehicles pulled over to the side of the road when they skidded, perhaps deciding carrying on was not smart. In my Honda CR-V, I muscled along behind a pickup truck, then a Cadillac, then a Mercedes. I admit- my mind did question why a Mercedes was out on the freeway. Half-heartedly singing along to the faint 90s music playing on the radio, I shook my head at the ridiculousness of this decision to drive an hour and some to run a race. Not just any race- a 5 mile race. Dressed as Santa. In the sleet. I thought about the other cars on the road, and the effort it took merely to make the roads drivable. The EFFORT. Salt, plow, sand, chains, windshield wipers, brushes, defrosters, 4-wheel drive. We defy nature so well, as if we feel called by anxiety to prove that nature will never fully be greater than we, that it may inconvenience us, but never stop us. Even in the most dire blizzards, the airport reopens.


The race was as silly as you would expect. 250 people, aged 15-74, donned red felt pants, jackets, belts, and hats, and complete with elastic beards, rushed down the road as the ice hit our faces every second. We hung right onto a bridge, then hiked (yes) basically a mile until we turned around and hiked back on the sand/snow. I couldn’t even feel tired. The whole way, I laughed uncontrollably as my pants ripped, beard soggily clung to my chin, and the Santa jacket slipped off my shoulders so I was basically running with a shawl.

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What disruption, I thought. It took me longer to get here than expected. The conditions were brutal. Yet, if I had succumbed to staying in bed and snuggling with a cup of coffee, I would have regretted not going much, much more. Disruption is usually the first sign that an opportunity is around the corner- are we willing to hike for it?

A Halloween Recipe (Try it, it’s yummy)

Halloween has always been one of my favorite days of the year. As I get older and feel less enthused about staying out all night and wearing a t-shirt and shorts in cool fall weather, the part that excites me more now is really celebrating the fall season. The pumpkins, gourds, apple cider, and earthy colors ease the looming anxiety that winter is coming, and the days will offer little daylight. I still enjoy dressing up- this year, I ran in a costume dash and baked several pies after finishing.

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Dr. Pepper, anyone?

Halloween also reminds me that fall is a season of dying. In many ways, death looks glamorous in the fall. The splendid leaves that burst in reds, yellows, and oranges on the trees that were lush green only weeks before are indeed dying, and eventually will fall to the ground. Once the harvest concludes, we face the end of outside activities- for the next few months, most everything we do will be inside in the warmth. The month of November in particular reminds me to be mindful of those I and the people close to me have lost. Every year, one of my friends has lost a loved one in November. Given the end of light and many crops, it makes sense that naturally, November would be a month of ends of lives as well.

In honor of Halloween and remembering my Grandma Mary, who passed away four years ago in early fall, here is a recipe for a decadent dessert you can make any time of the year, but is particularly special with a warm cup of Mexican hot chocolate (which really, is hot chocolate) and some warm socks. A Blessed Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos to everyone!

Pumpkin Chocolate Tres Leches Cake with Maple Syrup Frosting

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons Hersheys Special Dark cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 14-oz can pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 3/4 sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 4-5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 13×9 in. pan.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter and sugar mixture, mix until combined.
  5. Now, alternate adding the flour mixture with the pumpkin puree to the mixer in 3 increments.
  6. Pour cake batter into greased pan. Bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Let cake cool for at least 30 min. Once cool enough, poke several holes with a straw or anything that will make enough space for the leches.
  8. Mix together the evaporated milk, condensed milk, heavy cream, and maple extract.
  9. Pour mixture over the cake and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
  10. To make icing, cream together butter and shortening on medium speed.
  11. Add 4 cups of the powdered sugar gradually, one cup at a time.
  12. Add the maple syrup. If needed for consistency, add the last cup of powdered sugar.
  13. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  14. Once the leches have settled, frost the cake.
  15. Garnish with chopped pecans, if you like!

Running in New York City

Ah, the fresh smell of filth only semi-recognizable. We arrived in NYC Saturday afternoon and hauled our luggage 6 blocks to the Pod Hotel. A pod hotel offers you a bed that fills the whole room with some storage underneath and a box bathroom. But you can’t complain about being right at 39th and Lexington, right?

We spent the weekend wandering around Art Museums and eating ramen and bao buns that one cannot find in Boston. Every day we walked over 30,000 steps. Our feet ached. We munched on sweets from Milk Bar and Levain Bakery until my throat scratched from sugar overload. I obnoxiously posted pictures of sunsets atop tall buildings on my Instagram. #NYCshortweekend.


On Sunday we hiked all the way from our hotel to the Guggenheim, a museum I had never visited before, and then through Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History. As we trudged through Central Park with dampened t-shirts (it was about 97 F without humidity), I watched the runners on the road as they headed south. Some of them had flashy neon shorts and tank tops, while others donned old grey shirts with track shorts and mid-calf white socks. I marveled at every single person brave enough to sweat it out in that heat.

I have been a runner for almost 14 years now. As a freshman in high school, I joined the cross country team because my dad said it would help me get in shape for basketball. Funnily enough, I ended up not even playing basketball my senior year. But I ran every year, and constantly felt inadequate. My body was larger than my teammates’ and it took more time for me to carry it, mile by mile. 3 miles always felt horrendously long. I remember secretly rejoicing when my IT band became inflamed and I had to take a month off running. Every summer I promised to train and be more prepared for the season, but my times never improved. Yet every year, I ran in my little red shorts and tank top and counted down the number of races left to complete.

The funny thing is, I’ve never stopped running, even though there are times I really hate it. Every few months since high school, my body would get a strange craving to stretch my legs and pound the pavement. I would always feel so sore after running when I hadn’t in so long. The next day, I’d hit my legs until the lactic acid started to move, and I’d be off. The music in my earbuds has ranged from Incubus to Turkish pop stars.

When my friend Taylor asked me (ok, challenged me) to run a half marathon almost a year ago, I scoffed. The longest I had ever ran without stopping was about seven miles, and that was torture. I figured I would start training, have a good few weeks, and then like many initially titillating hobbies, I would find something better to do like bake low-carb cheesecake. But November became December and then the New Year came, and I ran a mile longer every week. The last few weeks in February I ran 11 or 12 miles on Saturdays. I couldn’t believe it- the chubby last-to-finish high schooler was actually doing this! Just as the cherry blossoms bloomed, I finished the half marathon in Washington, D.C. with my friends Taylor, Areeba and Audrey. We ate a big, much deserved brunch after crossing the finish line.

When I see anyone running (on purpose), my respect for the person skyrockets. Perhaps it’s because I have learned how much practice running takes. “It’s just one foot in front of the other,” our coach at the treadmill studio shouts as we sprint for 30 seconds. Sometimes the simplest action takes the most practice. When we meditate, we simply sit on a cushion and stay still. The practice is letting ourselves stay purely in this moment. It can be easy to rush through life with distractions at every turn, but being alone with ourselves can feel excruciating.

Spending the weekend in New York was a blessing, a much-needed distraction from the ever-approaching school year mayhem. I felt a little sad on the bus back home because we our fun had ended so soon. I thought about the runners in the park. If we, runners, ran for the finish, we would quickly give up and find something more enjoyable to do like barre or hip hop yoga. We run because we enjoy the challenge, we thrive on finding presence in the pain. As Haruki Murakami wrote in his memoir about training for the New York City Marathon, “pain is inevitable…but suffering if optional.” Arriving back in our humble Boston studio, I collapsed on the bed and massaged my feet.