Keeping Pace

I recently did some surgery on an older—and much longer—essay for Runner's World. It's a way of thanking my mom for the gift of running. You can read the full essay here!

I once owned a runner’s handbook—a gift from my mom—with blank pages to record daily runs along with notes on pace, distance, and nutrition. The book included a list of myths about running, each myth met by a rebuttal from the author. One in particular stood out to me. The myth was that you run for your health. This is true, of course, in part. But the author offered an incisive rebuttal: “Bullshit. You run for the joy of being alive.”

Training for this marathon, I’d pull on running shoes in the evenings after work or on early mornings. As I rolled out of bed in the dark, I’d consider taking the day off. But I never did, and each time I was glad. In these moments I thought how unlike me it was to set my alarm for six a.m. on a Saturday and push for fifteen miles, how like my mom it was instead. I’d run and feel her there too, running beside me.

Inventory: An MFA Love Letter

After Durga Chew-Bose

Driving north on the I-5 toward Santa Barbara I inventory the things I’d miss if I died, if my car veered into the median or if another driver plowed sideways into me. There’ve been two fatal accidents this month—people I know, once removed—which feels like death tapping at the edges of routine. But it’s beauty, not morbidity that leads me to this inventory. Everything feels extravagant and it’s because of Santa Fe, because I’m coming off immersion in words and art and people who make me more porous, quicker to exclaim over a misshapen moon or the way evening light columns over mountains and across a freeway.

Driving north I watch the sky melt into peach, palm trees deepening into silhouette caricatures. I think about how I’d miss flowing up the coast like this, the anticipation of arrival. I’d miss the sting of the ocean, sand swirling like glitter in the shallows. I’d miss the sensation of hunger, and of surprise. The warm fragrance of my husband’s sleeping skin. I’d miss stepping off a plane into air that confirms my imagination of a new country—the way southern Mexico smells exactly like I think it should, of taxi exhaust, wet stone plazas, and tulip blossoms like fistfuls of orange. The way Santa Fe burns with sage and piñon and smoke.

Scent is witchy that way. It harnesses a physical place through something invisible: particles floating through air like noise. I left Santa Fe over a week ago but the particles cling to me. I can still smell sap and sage and rain on concrete. The scent of that place is charged, like thunder cracking over the mountains. It is a dorm hall stairwell: cleaning solution and dry linens and expectation. It is cigarette smoke diffusing through the screen of an open window. The scent seeps into the thin bed sheets of St. John’s College, sheets that absorb the way one falls into them: buzzed off low-grade whiskey, shoving pages and pens to the floor, brimming and unsteadied and ready to do it again tomorrow.

If I had a cauldron, I’d make a perfume of it—a catalog of scents to conjure you up. One spritz and you’d be here, all of you. You making coffee, you gripping the balcony railing and watching thunderhead clouds roil. The blue beat of your ankle in the chair next to mine. You holding an ice cream, smart and self-deprecating even as you lick chocolate from the cone. Your pinprick of light in the courtyard at night, heat between your fingers that you stub against the faux-adobe wall. You rushing through pages to find a rebuttal. You with your glasses or your good eyes. You leaning forward, expecting epiphany in that breath of silence between words. You, and you, and you.

Driving north I add the smell of Santa Fe to my inventory. I’d miss it, and I miss it now. And even without it I’m waking up with the same unsteadied, brimming feeling, ready to discover some new word that rinses me all over in gladness for being alive today, today. I’m scouring every conversation and page for that word, ready to lift it and hold it and tuck it away. This is something you taught me—you, and you, and you.

Eating is Delightful: Lessons from The Supper of the Lamb

Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful.
...
Love is the widest, choicest door into the Passion. God saved the world not by sitting up in heaven and issuing antiseptic directives, but by becoming man, and vulnerable, in Jesus. He died, not because He despised the earth, but because He loved it as a man loves it—out of all proportion and sense.
...
The world will be lifted, as it was always meant to be lifted, by the priestly love of man. What Christ has done is to take our broken priesthood into His and make it strong again. We can, you see, take it with us. It will be precisely because we loved Jerusalem enough to bear it in our bones that its textures will ascend when we rise; it will be because our eyes have relished the earth that the color of its countries will compel our hearts forever. The bread and the pastry, the cheeses, the wine, and the songs go into the Supper of the Lamb because we do: It is our love that brings the City home.
— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

Possibilities

1.

I'm writing on the sand at Ocean Beach in the heavy late afternoon heat of July. I tried to read but was distracted by the phone conversation of a girl lying next to me. (Disclaimer: she was right next to me, so it wasn't reeaallyy like eavesdropping.) It took me a while to figure out she was talking to her mom. The conversation ranged while her hair gusted wild around her face, eyes intent on an image beyond the waves.

At one point, I realized her dad had died. She talked about missing him, missing the way she could call him up, missing the way he could fix anything. "Why couldn't you have had me ten years earlier?" she asked her mom. "Then he'd still be around for me to call and ask for help." She laughed as she said this—no condemnation, just an invitation to open shared memories. Their conversation shifted again and again as I caught fragments of it over the wind. Like this one: "There are all these atrocities going on in the world, and I'm here on the beach, with a job, talking to my loving mother." 

2.

Three days ago, a U.S. airstrike killed over 60 people—women and children mostly. I opened Twitter and one of the first things I saw was a photo of a dead little boy. He was lifted in someone's arms, his head rolling back, covered completely in the gray dust of decimated concrete and desert. It was heartbreaking, of course it was, what else can you say? The image reminded me of that photo no one can forget from last fall—a tiny refugee boy's body washed onto the sand. What a strange age we live in, to see the faces of victims half a world a way on our computer screens. To carry the heaviness of sorrow as we sit on a beach and watch kids splash each other with salty foam. It seems like the only thing to do when the whole world's sorrow is so visible is to mourn with those who mourn. The mourning doesn't need to be publicized, seen, or spoken aloud, but we should mourn.

3.

And, rejoice. That's the other half: "Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." So after the girl on the phone leaves the beach, I go for a run along the cliffs. OB and Sunset Cliffs is my favorite place to run in San Diego. Everything is bright and overgrown and ripe and pungent. There's always star jasmine and bougainvillea growing and an odd bunch of characters for people watching. It's the best. 

Honestly, I don't feel like running. The city's in a heat spell and my feet are like fat little sausages straining against their casings (you bet I'm going to be a happy pregnant lady). At one point I stop to stretch where a crowd has gathered. They are watching cliff jumpers—a crowd of teenagers egging each other on and leaping off the rocks into dives or flips, screaming the whole way down. I am one of a dozen strangers watching the scene. Suddenly the crowd parts: an old man in red trunks and a red hat is speeding toward the cliff's edge on his bike. In a split second everyone absorbs what is happening and the screams crest as he flies off the edge, off his bike which is attached to his leg with a surfboard leash, and crashes into the swell of water. He surfaces with his fist raised to applause. Along with the dozen strangers, I am laughing and cheering him on too.  

Sometimes it takes an old man riding off a cliff to wake us up to the possibilities a day contains. 

4.

Before the girl at the beach hung up, after her rambling and unforced and familiar conversation—just two voices connected by laughter and secrets and history and womanhood—they said goodbye. "I gotta go. I love you, Mama." I recognized exactly the mother-daughter, female-friendship intimacy in her tone. It made me thankful to have heard the conversation, and thankful for the relationship they shared.

A girl on the phone with her mom. A little boy dead from air strikes. A run along the ocean. An old man riding through a crowd of teenagers on his bike, meeting the frothing waves below. A day containing delight and surprise and sadness. Rejoicing and mourning. It's always both, and.