November Goals and Portland Sweat Project

Hey it’s the last day of October!

Tomorrow is November 1st, and I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year (National Novel Writing Month, a thing where you write 50,000 words during November). I have done and won NaNo for the past five years. Five is a nice round number, and I’m proud to have finished and reached my 50,000 word goal every single time I’ve attempted it. As it turns out I already had a pretty strong streak of “Reach the finish line at any cost!” even before I started doing foot races. Back in 2014, my NaNo project was this cool little urban-fantasy book about a lady trucker and a telepathic dragon. I still think it’s a cool little book—though with the current draft at over 100,000 words, it’s not such a little book at all. And every year since 2014, November has meant a brand new project and a whole lot of writing energy… directed away from that cool little book that I’d really like to finish. So I want to write in November, but instead of starting a brand new book that might reach 50,000 words without even figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up (did I mention NaNo 2016 and 2017 were basically plot and theme disasters?) I want to really focus in and move forward on my existing project. I want to do the type of writing and editing and fixing that isn’t easily quantifiable by word count, and I want to finish the ending and create a readable draft. So that’s November goals this year. I also have a few other creative projects that I don’t want to completely abandon for the month, so it makes sense and feels right to keep moving forward on what inspires me right now rather than doing something new just for the sake of doing it. But for all of you out there gearing up for NaNoWriMo 2018, I wish you the very best of luck!

Also, a note on today. The temperature was just below freezing when I woke up around 5:30 am. On a workday I would have already been at work, or at least hurrying in that direction from my all-day parking spot a ten-minute walk away. Today I had the option of curling up into a warm bed and going back to sleep…but instead I got up and #JustShowedUp for the first time ever to a 6:30 am free fitness meetup in a city park. It’s called Portland Sweat Project and it wasn’t as scary as a TOTALLY new thing since I knew most of the crew from my run club, but it was still really early in the morning. I’m generally not a morning exercise person, but within minutes of sprints and squats and pushups and burpees I felt awake and alive and took off my parka because I wasn’t even cold anymore. Then we ran around city hall and played duck-duck-goose (with squats and planks) in the square and took a picture with some pumpkins at the farmer’s market. Winter is bad but I learn over and over again that going outside and moving and sweating and running with your friends is pretty much always the correct choice.

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My newbie photo from PSP! (Photo credit © Mari Balow.)

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Blogging. What a Trip.

At post-run drinks the other day, a friend mentioned updating his blog. Then we had a talk about writing our books, about how hard it is to nail the ending, and about how, much, goddamn, TIME you put into something like a novel with no guarantee of that time paying off for you in any tangible way, no guarantee that that book will ever reach an audience other than yourself.

Okay, now I’m depressed about writing again.

But blogging as a topic of conversation in a run space, the runniest of my run spaces, got me a little inspired and thinking that maybe, with a little tending, this blog could be more than a relic of a less active time in my life.

I feel like blogging has an uneasy space in today’s options for communication and self-promotion. If I am looking for attention, for example, I will make a facebook post. This will get me immediate feedback in the form of comments and likes, and will be seen by more people than blog content that requires time to click through to a different website and read a whole post. The immediate feedback feels nice. What a thing to want, though. Feedback. Attention. “Attention-seeker” is a very negative thing to call someone, and if anyone is being bratty, or acting up, or behaving in a way that is over-the-top and destructive to those around them, they are commonly dismissed with the phrase, “Oh, they’re just looking for attention.” So even on Facebook I feel a lot of pressure not to post too much, or too loudly. It can be hard to tell where the line is between sharing and bragging. I often feel annoyed by the relentless positivity of posts that are meant to inspire, often by public figures who have turned their online presence into a brand. I try not to trust this annoyance because perhaps I am cynical or jealous—but I also try to hit a more subdued note, and to not post about accomplishments more than once or twice a week. And yet… I spike my hair up and dye it Rock’n Roll Red (words from the Manic Panic bottle, not mine). I want to be seen.

So blog posts don’t get seen in the instant way a Facebook post would. What’s the point of a blog, then? Is it a diary? My actual diary, for which I use the more sophisticated term journal, is for writing in when I’m mad about boys. I have a series of physical notebooks on predominantly this topic going back to the year 2000. A blog makes a crappy diary because I’m not exactly going to blog publicly about every detail of my life. Sometimes I wish I could—I sure have some witty things to say about it—but I place too much value on my own privacy and the privacy of others to ever use a blog post the way I use my journal.

Maybe a blog is just to have a consistent online presence in a world where things like that matter, or could matter depending on what decisions you make and paths you take. A blog is a place on the internet to hang your hat, ready to mobilize on that future date when you sell your novel or launch your public career as a motivational speaker (Ha!). Or, smaller scale, maybe it’s just to practice saying a few things. To practice writing them down, and to try growing less afraid to share the parts of yourself that are shareable, just in case your sharing might give a moment of pleasure or connection to someone else. Maybe?

This isn’t a big “The Blog is Back” announcement. The future is uncertain and priorities are constantly shifting. But I wanted a to write a post and then I kept wanting to write it, to the point that I’ve actually drafted this on a public library computer while waiting for my replacement laptop charger to arrive in the mail. So maybe I’ll keep wanting to write blog posts. I’m guessing I’ll want to write posts about running, which is why I’ve redesigned the website to feature running in the tagline and header (photo credit Craig Dilger—you can’t see it in the mobile version but yes the tiny runner on the breakwall is me). This might be a temporary redesign—maybe I’ll write another blog post soon about how all my tech is breaking down and it’s making digital art difficult. Maybe not. The future is uncertain. This is a blog post. The end.

Life and Running

National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow and I promised myself that, somehow, by the end of the day, I would post something on this blog. Maybe not the perfect thing—I’m about to write 50,000 very imperfect words in thirty days, so getting used to doing things imperfectly is a good idea—but SOMEthing. An update. Seeing as my last post was in March 2016.

The longer I go without an update the harder it is to do one. So many things have happened. The website needs a redesign. So many things have changed. But November starts tomorrow, and I’m going to begin the exact same challenge I’ve completed every November since 2013, so that’s something. The older I get, the more stock I put in having things that I do. Not things that I want to do, or hope to do, or plan to do. Things that I actually, consistently, do, even when it isn’t easy to do them.

The biggest thing I’ve done this past year is running. I’m close to a full year of at least one run a week (and usually five or more). I’ve been a casual runner for years, I’ve posted about running here before, but this is the first time I’ve stuck with it for more than a few

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My 2016-2017 run calendar (days I ran are in pink).

weeks, or more than a season. My story is that winter last year was rough. Rough for the nation, yes, but I had some personal frustrations hitting at around the same time. I was angry and confused and embarrassed and sad, and I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I started running. Even though it was cold and dark and being outside was the worst thing ever. Running was just suddenly all I wanted to be doing, so I kept doing it. I also started showing up, obsessively, to the Thursday and Saturday hashes (a hash is an adventure run with beer). We started a new practice run on Mondays. I think we ran through nearly every single blizzard last winter. And here’s where I get a little sappy, but I am so grateful for this rotating crew of beautiful souls that I get to spend the majority of my free time with. Maybe it’s not so exceptional, maybe people are amazing the world over, but I can’t help but feel that my friends are something extra shiny. I’m always looking around me, just, so delighted that we’re all here, we’re running through streets at night, we’re following trail through a foot of snow, we’re singing under bridges, we’re wearing silly costumes, we’re getting lost in the woods—and so many other things. Y’all are constantly warming my heart.

In the spring I signed up for a 10k (Beach to Beacon, Aug. 5th), which kickstarted my more serious running. At the time, running six miles seemed like an awful lot. At the same time I also started hanging with a super cool and supportive group of more runny runners, people that run VERY FAR distances and have multiple marathons under their belts. Turns out that sort of thing rubs off on you. Before I even ran the 10k (my first race ever!) I had signed up for my first marathon (MDI Marathon, Oct. 15th).

You know that cliché (I think there’s a meme) about single people in their 20s and 30s watching enviously as their friends get engaged, get married, buy houses, have kids, etc? My recommendation to anyone who feels that they haven’t had a Life Event in awhile is to run a marathon. I’m very willing to believe that my friends and family are particularly incredible, but all the support and congratulations I’ve received have made me feel like a goddamn rockstar. Have I mentioned yet that y’all are the absolute best and I love you very much?

In lieu of any sort of race details, since most people reading this will have already heard all about it, here is a visual representation of the difference between the first half of the marathon (mile 7 I think) and the second half:

So I started out last year with exactly one winter running outfit that wasn’t even real run clothes. Now I have an Entire Drawer stuffed full of run clothes and spandex. I used to run so sporadically that I wore a single pair of run shoes from the summer of 2012 to March of this year, 2017, when they were literally falling to pieces on trail and had holes in the soles. Now, I’ve already run over 400 miles in the shoes I purchased mid-July. Oh, and I also do a pretty intense circuit training class twice a week (minus the three weeks resting for and then recovering from the marathon). When I started the class back in July I could barely bench press the 45 lb bar even once, and now I can usually do it for the full minute. Maybe soon I’ll add weights! Mostly my goal here is the pretty shallow one of turning fat into muscle and looking like as much of a badass as my genetics will allow (#buffquest!!!), but I’m also doing it for that teenage girl who was completely humiliated in high school gym class when they counted how many chin-ups/pull-ups you could do, in front of all the athletic popular kids, and she couldn’t even hang from the bar for a full second. Ever since then I’ve had a life goal of doing a pull-up—just one—and this is the first time in my life I’m actually consistently working in the right direction to make that happen.

To wrap up: I feel like I’ve changed a lot and come a long way. I’m going into November physically stronger than I’ve ever been, twenty lbs lighter, and with a higher confidence in my own abilities to stay a course and to do the things that I set out to do. There are still things in my life I am not proud of, there are things I am working on, and there’s an awful lot I’m still searching for. So, as always, an awful lot of journey still to do. For the next step, I’m gonna write 50,000 words in November, and I’m gonna keep running.

I’m Back

I’ve returned to the USA. There’s cheese here; I like that.

It’s been a great joy to see so many people I haven’t seen for so long. My social plate has been full for the last week and a half, and I hope all my friends know how wonderful it is to see their faces and hear their voices.

People keep asking how it is to be back; and it’s good. It’s surreal how ordinary it all feels, almost like the last year never happened and I’m back where I’m supposed to be. I’m different, though. The ten months abroad gave me a lot, in terms of focus, identity, belief.

Currently I’m existing in a state of unknowns. Thankfully I saved enough to invest in some things I need (an American phone, a drawing tablet that works, new interview shoes), but things cost a lot in America—like, so much—and I need an income sooner rather than later. I expected to feel more anxiety about that, but I’m putting a lot of energy toward the search, and it all has to work out one way or another. Housing is also an issue, and unexpectedly so, but I know we’ll find a solution.

My most overwhelming reverse-culture shock moment so far happened while walking into a Hannaford grocery store last Sunday. There are many Hannaford stores all over the greater Portland area, and for the two years I worked as bus driver Hannaford was my home-away-from-home. You can always find bus parking in a Hannaford parking lot, and I used to go in at least once a day to use the bathroom and grab a snack, or even get lunch from the wings/salad bar. While riding back from the airport, just seeing the Hannaford sign gave me a surprisingly intense shot of nostalgia.

So I walked into Hannaford on a Sunday morning, concise grocery-list in hand, and it was SO STRANGE to be alone in a public place and feel like I was meant to belong.

Every time I went into a mall or grocery store or market in Phitsanulok, I knew that I stood out. I was the tall foreigner who didn’t speak the language, and couldn’t be expected to know how to do anything. If I ever needed help, or if the cashier needed to tell me that it was buy-one-get-1-free on one of my items (which I never knew while getting it off the shelf because I couldn’t read the sign), it meant we were in for a half-mimed and half-understood conversation of broken Thai and broken English. I became really accustomed to that feeling of standing out, of being watched, of sales people whispering to each other when they saw me and then sending their best English-speaking representative over to ask if I needed anything.

So it was bizarre to be in a large store and to feel like everyone around me expected me to fit in and know exactly how to behave. It felt like a lot of pressure, suddenly, like if I messed up people would judge me. I didn’t realize that the lack of expectations for my behavior in a foreign country was actually freeing, in some ways, and belonging in a place visually made me feel like an imposter. Especially since I couldn’t remember where the coffee aisle was, and hadn’t steered a shopping cart in months.

I’m also really scared that Hannaford has stopped making lemon poppyseed muffins, which were my favorite. They did them perfect, too, soft on the inside and crispy on top. I need to try a different store, or a different day, to confirm. All I know is that the back bay store didn’t have them on Sunday, and it was a bummer.

That’s all for now! Despite the muffins, it’s great to be back.

February Update

Hello blog! Just a quick check-in to let you know I survived the holidays. December Sketches, Christmas, New Years, my birthday, Valentine’s, Etc.

I finished the December Sketch-A-Day Challenge  and completed 31 sketches for the first year ever! It wore me out, though, and I wasn’t super thrilled with all of my sketches. Well, okay, here’s one that turned out nice.

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I’ve also have visitors. Four whole people in December, including my brother and some very dear friends. Two of whom stayed for almost a month.

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And then my parents visited, and we went to Cambodia, which was my first time leaving  Thailand in a lot of months. Then my parents went to India, and then came back to Bangkok where I met them a week later, so it was like they visited twice.

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At the end of a long day of touring Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, commonly referred to as Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is actually the most famous of many ruins, and we are standing near the back of Angkor Wat in the photo above.

Oh, and on my birthday I had dinner outside by the river with these lovely people (and the guy taking the photograph, sorry Andrew!). They even got me a CAKE, which was ridiculously sweet. Then, at home, I had a drink out of this glorious unicorn goblet which recently arrive in the mail from Lady Higg.

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I’m also writing, when I can. I’ve been wrestling some plot demons, but I think I’ve found a solution—to at least some of the problems. What with preparing final lessons and student grades, picking up an extra class, making travel plans for my last few weeks, and job hunting, it’s been hard to find the time. Did I mention I’ll be home in less than a month? See you soon!

December Sketches (Sketch With Me!)

Officially closed out NaNoWriMo at 58,504 words. No, I didn’t make 70,000, but I’m still writing. And forget NaNoWriMo; it’s December. As usual, I’m trying to sketch every day of December, for a total of 31 sketches. I haven’t actually finished the challenge yet, but perhaps this third year will be the one!

I haven’t done my Dec. 1st sketch yet, but here’s the self-portrait I made yesterday. It’s my third annual Monday After Thanksgiving Self Portrait. A little less relevant since I didn’t actually get a day off for Thanksgiving, and also Monday was still in November this year, but what can you do?

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You can find my 2013 portrait is here, and the 2014 portrait here.

And, calling all artists, are you looking for a challenge? How about 31 sketches in 31 days this December? Join us! You can post sketches to your blog, and we also have a facebook group for posting sketches and encouragement. Just search for the closed group December Sketch-a-Day Challenge and request to join. Hope to see your sketches!

Day 25: Winning

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Yeah that’s right, I won early! I reached 50,000 words this Sunday afternoon, more than a week before the end of November. This is a first, for me. Here’s what my progress graph looked like on Sunday:

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I love these graphs, by the way. If I could add any feature to the NaNoWriMo website, it would be the ability to compare graphs side-by-side, or spliced on top of each other. You could compare your current year’s progress to every other year you’ve participated, or you could compare your own graph to any of your writing buddies’. I think that would be neat.

I didn’t stop writing, by the way. I’m now trying to reach a new goal of 70,000 before the end of November. Wanna see another graph? ‘Cause I sure do. Here’s where I am today:

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See how the bars are above the goal line?

Current word count is 55,483, and I’m still lagging about a thousand behind where I want to be for today.

Every single person writes differently, but here’s how I made my win happen:

It started with travel plans for the weekend. I thought I would be away on the 21st and 22nd, and I didn’t know if I’d find the time to write. Starting on Monday of last week, I made it my mission to get as far ahead as possible before the weekend hit. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, I have time to write at the end of my workday before it’s time to go home, of which I took full advantage. It was nice. And so the following few days, when I taught right to the end of the school day, I did the same thing. I stayed late at my desk as long as I could, and typed until I had met my word count. Then I cancelled my travel plans at the last minute, and I was already so far ahead and on a role that I said, hang on, I think I can get to 50,000 by Sunday. And so I did.

My new goal, 70,000, will bring me a lot closer to the end of the story than 50,000. I’ve written this story completely linearly so far; it starts at the beginning and follows a plot and there are no missing pieces or pieces that obviously don’t belong. This is unusual for me, and after the current mess of my dragon book I find it relaxing. Even if I don’t make 70,000 this month, or if the story still isn’t done at 70,000, I want to keep writing until I find the end.

Cheers!