My Running Revolution

I started running again last week, and it’s changing my life.

The other day, my dear friend and email correspondent Constable Maelstrom and I discussed the concept of agency. How it’s easy to let things happen to you in life, and it’s easy to just float along and assume you can’t really control the stuff that makes you feel good, or the stuff that makes you feel bad. Well, as Constable Maelstrom said, to hell with that. When I went for a run last tuesday, I took agency in my life and my health. I said, to hell with not feeling good, and to hell with worrying about things I can’t control. What I can do, right now, today, is go running. I can do this good thing and choose to feel incredible, rather than letting the days pass me by.

Did I mention it was raining last Tuesday, when I took that first run of the year? I’m a warm weather person, and while I know that running is something I enjoy and something that enriches and improves my life, I have always allowed my running routine to be controlled by the weather. Tuesday was pretty daring for me, going running in the rain and the barely forty degrees. I went again Wednesday, when it was 37˚ and sunny. Lower than my ideal temperature, but I bundled up and did okay. Then, on Thursday and Friday, a cold wind blew. “It’s winter again,” I moaned. So much for my healthy routine! But it was sunny again on Saturday, so I did the thing and jogged around the block. On Sunday, it was cold. I sang in church, I joined my parents and their church group for corned beef and cabbage (and roasted carrots and Irish soda bread), I wrote most of a blog post, and we all finished Argo (which we’d started the night before. Good movie). At the end of the day, I felt kind of antsy and desperate. At dusk, and in just under 20˚ Fahrenheit, I went for a run.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was huge. Prior to this week, I’ve never gone running in temperatures under 40˚, and under 50˚ only on very rare occasions. On Sunday, I took agency away from the outdoor thermometer. I stood up and said, I’m the one who gets to control whether or not I run on any given day. Me. I get to choose.

Since then, it’s been awesome. On Tuesday, I ran in a snowstorm. On Wednesday, I ran through the post-snowstorm slush. Yesterday, even though I’d given myself permission to take the day off, I ran because I ate deep-fried seafood for lunch (so yummy) and I needed to do something healthy to counteract the sugar-sauce and the grease. I’ve been for eight runs in the past ten days, and I feel incredible. I have so much more energy for every aspect of my life. My tummy is shrinking at an alarming rate (anyone else excited for bikini season this year?), and I’ve had the courage to take agency in other things, like correspondence, creative work, and employment. Good things just keep happening. We had a great set at the pub last friday in which I barely messed up my harp solo at all, and then we left early to jam with old and new friends until midnight. I’m making exciting new friends, and I’m having exciting new conversations with some of the old and dear ones. I even found a job to apply for (read my last post on Writing with a Day Job!), and it’s valuable work for which I feel well-qualified. I can’t tell you how excited I am about everything—and I think it’s all happening because of the running, and because of my choice to feel great.

All good blog posts need a visual, so here is a photograph of me.

DayoftheRun01

It was taken in Thailand, looking across the river into Laos. Here’s what the photo doesn’t tell you:

On the day this was taken, I’d had a terrible morning. Imagine being stuck on a bus for two hours with the radio set on the sappiest, most saccharine english-language love songs you can imagine—within a month from the worst break up of your life. Plus, my legs were absolutely covered with bites from monster mosquitoes that itched with a persistance American mosquito bites can only dream of. It was was also getting to that point in the three-week trip where we’d had so many new and incredible experiences, almost more than I could take, with relatively little time to recharge. It’s also possible that I was hungover. We finally piled out of the bus into at least ninety-degree weather onto a rocky plateau, the sun a hard orb above, and went for a hike just below the cliffs where we could look across the river and see some cave paintings. I was cranky, antsy, upset, and full of that bad sort of energy that boils around inside and makes your skin crawl. Even though it was the sort of weather where you’d sweat your brains out just standing still, I needed to run. When we hit the the part of the trail that headed back over land to the bus, I cajoled one of the guys on the trip to join me in a run. And then, I ran my heart out. I sweated and huffed and barely kept up, but I set my feet against the hard rock and pounded forward into the blazing sun and the still air and ran out all my anger and frustration and heartache. This picture was taken that afternoon, and you have no idea how much sweat had drenched and dried into my clothing and hair, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful pictures of me from the whole trip.

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A Forgetful Man (and other things)

Hey readers! Here’s a cool thing on the internet you may find interesting, or reassuring, or simply true:

A Forgetful Man by Tom Rich

That link will take you to a blog post by a dear friend of mine, whom I have erstwhile referred to on this blog as Leftenant Weatherby. I also post this by way of apology because, in the fashion elucidated by Rich, I seem to have forgotten how to make regular posts about interesting topics on this blog. I’ll get back to it soon, promise. The good news is that I am writing—if you can call it that. I am limping forward on my manuscript, a few paragraphs at a time. The way it’s going right now, a single sentence is a mighty victory. I’m nervous about the whole project as I near the end of the manuscript; the ending is the part I am most unsure about, the part most susceptible to criticism. I can easily imagine a scenario where I end up completely re-doing the last few chapters on the advice of my first readers. In order to get advice from first readers, though, I have to do the best I can with my manuscript and get it ready to be read.

I’m still playing the harp. My teacher says I’m doing very well, and I should be proud of myself. I can play quite a few little songs now, and they’re real songs, not “baby-music”, as my teacher puts it. Maybe in the near future I can make a video of me playing, and share it with you. Would that be of interest?

harp

My biggest scheme right now is to save enough money to purchase the harp I am renting. My teacher is selling it for a discounted price, and all the money I am putting in for rent will go towards that purchase. At first I wanted to save up for an entirely different harp (were all things equal, I would prefer one that was not blue) but that will take too long. I am too anxious to begin modifying this one; I want to install more levers, and a pick-up, and purchase a more padded case (because apparently I will never ever master the skill of walking through a door without banging my harp against it). And I want to do all that while paying my student loans, and saving up for more travel at some point soon. The obvious, most economical option is to purchase the harp I have, and with a little work I can slowly turn it into exactly the harp I want.

My last post was about making changes. It is a period of change in the Makley household—my father has entered a weight-loss competition at work. Since of course we have to support him(!!) I have seized upon this as an opportunity to change my own habits for the healthier. I’m trying to cut sugar and bread out of my diet as much as possible, and hoping to re-integrate exercise into my routine within the next week.

There are other things I am working on, other things I have forgotten, other things I am thinking about, but they will have to wait. I hope you’re having a good day. Let’s all keep keeping on.

-Grace out

Vanya Snapshot: High School Chorus

This is a behind-the-scenes post. It gives away more of Vanya’s past than I am usually comfortable sharing—but I really wanted to share it anyway. I will be especially grateful for your thoughts in the comments section today.

I attended a high school music concert a few nights ago that featured middle school and high school chorus and band. There was one very small, skinny kid in the High School Chorus with a mop of dark brown hair that completely obscured his eyes when he looked down, although when he looked up he smiled a bright smile. From far away, he didn’t look like a high school freshman; he could have been eight. And he reminded me of Vanya.

A sketchy-sketch of how Vanya may have looked at 15, all dressed up for his high school concert and staring down at his shoes.

A sketchy-sketch of how Vanya may have looked at 15, all dressed up for his high school concert and staring down at his shoes.

Vanya left home when he was fifteen, just a few months into his freshman year of high school. While listening to this concert, I wondered how Vanya’s experience with the high school music program might have gone during the short time he was there. I like to imagine the school was large enough to have a pedal harp sitting around somewhere that Vanya played in the orchestra, which went fairly well because he sat in the back, and hid behind the giant instrument. But how about that chorus concert?

He probably wouldn’t have auditioned for the big solo. He probably would have known that he couldn’t handle that kind of commitment and pressure. But what if the kid who did get the solo was sick on the day of the show? Or drunk? Maybe Vanya saved the day, and sang that solo so perfectly that the audience cried and cheered. Maybe afterwards, they tried to tell him how beautiful he was, all of them, parents and teachers and classmates, crowding around him and shouting congratulations at him in the hallway after the show, overwhelming him with so much praise and admiration that he couldn’t breathe. Maybe that’s when he ran. Or maybe… maybe he did audition for the big solo. Maybe he sang it so perfectly at the audition that the director awarded it to him with hardly any deliberation at all, and the choice was so obvious that even the slighted upperclassmen couldn’t be angry. And when the big night came, maybe he just couldn’t do it. Maybe Vanya showed up drunk, or ran away right before they drew the curtain, and instead of his angelic voice the audience heard only silence, and the whispered confusion of a high school choir that had depended on that beautiful, blonde-haired boy. Either way it happened, I like to think his mother found him hours later in a McDonald’s parking lot, sitting on the wood chips beneath a strangled-looking tree and kicking his heels against the curb. She convinced him to get in the car, and when she saw the wet tears on his cheek she prayed that the Blessed Virgin Mary would help her console her son, even though she’d never understood him. She’d known she would find him that night because his harp was still at the house. If she knew a single thing about her strange and alien child, it was this: on the day he left her forever, he would have that harp at his side.

Tolkien Week Day 1: The Hobbit (1977)

TolkienWeek

I tried to do a single post on the merits of animated Tolkien films, but it got away from me. Instead, to celebrate the release of the first new Hobbit movie on Friday, we are going to do a whole week of Tolkien posts. Participation is encouraged! If you feel inspired to do a Tolkien post this week, let me know and I will link to it here. You may also use my Tolkien Week banner, if you’d like. If you do, just be sure to link back here. And if Tolkien isn’t your thing, never fear—regular blog posts will resume next week.

The Hobbit (1977)

The_Hobbit

Does anyone remember this film? It’s by Rankin and Bass, who are also responsible for The Last Unicorn and the animated version of The Return of the King (which we’ll get to in a day or two.)

I find this film entirely charming. Go into it with the proper expectations (it is an ANIMATED CHILDREN’S MOVIE) and you will find a beautiful little film that hits at the heart of The Hobbit story. I confess I haven’t actually seen it for a number of years, but one of its most valuable and enchanting elements is the music, performed by folk singer Glenn Yarbrough. I found a youtube playlist of the entire soundtrack, which has only ever been released on LP. Go check it out!

(It should be noted that this playlist goes directly into songs from The Last Unicorn and The Return of the King.)

Almost all of these songs feature Tolkien’s actual lyrics from the books. My father read The Hobbit out loud to my brother and me when I was very, very young—and when he read the book, he sang the songs to the tunes from this movie. For me, the songs on this playlist ARE the songs from the book. This version of Over The Misty Mountains Cold, especially, encapsulates much of the utter magic that the works of Tolkien seemed to me during my childhood. Here’s the track (the Misty Mountains song is preceded by the song the dwarves sing to tease Bilbo as they clean up after their meal): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4TysZL6YiA&list=PLC00BB6EBF33B103C&index=7

Listen to this track all the way through, and you will also encounter John Huston’s voice as Gandalf, reciting directly from the book the story of Smaug and the Lonely Mountain. I have no complaints about Ian McKellan’s Gandalf whatsoever, but the timbre of John Huston’s voice is so rich here, and so transporting.

(As an addendum, I have some reservations about the upcoming Hobbit movie, but the performance of Misty Mountains from the first trailer is one of the things that gives me hope.)

There is also a song on this sountrack that never made it to the movie: Old Fat Spider. It’s a pretty loose adaptation of the song from the books that Bilbo sings at the spiders in Mirkwood, but I find it rather delightful. Something about the pacing;  it feels like Yarbrough might be slightly out of breath and running away from spiders as he sings. There is also something very satisfying about the sung lyrics, “Attercop! Oh Attercop!” I always figured the Attercop insult was a bit of nonsense, but trust Tolkien to do better than that: it’s actually from an Old English word for spider, and it still survives in the Yorkshire dialect today: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-att1.htm

All in all, I think this old movie is an excellent adaptation of The Hobbit, and it shouldn’t be completely discounted just because there’s a shiny new film on the loose. Even the song lyrics that don’t come from the book at all, like those of The Greatest Adventure (Track 1), seem to capture the heart of the story; of what it is to be a small person who suddenly discovers he is capable of great things after all.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead,
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes, are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

 

It Went Well

And this is what I’ve spent all my free time doing for the past few days. I can already play my first song! I play it very slowly, but still. That harp is a Harpsicle, a quality instrument designed to be lightweight and inexpensive. They also come in pretty colors! See their website for more details: http://harpsicleharps.com/. On Wednesday I paid to rent the harp for two months, and I have another lesson in two weeks. The Harp Lady gave me two songs to work on, in addition to working on form and hand placement and all that. It’s fun and challenging  and… it’s a harp. Even when I’m just playing chords, it sounds so nice. So far, I am loving every minute.

 

Harp Lessons (!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Big day tomorrow. A big, fat, exciting, living-the-dream sort of day. Tomorrow, I begin harp lessons.

I’ve been wanting to learn the harp for years, pretty much ever since Vanya happened. It’s been an off and on sort of thing—a dream that flares up with a roar, and then retreats, tail between its legs, because I do not have the time, money, or space to feed it. I also have a poor track record with learning instruments (viola, bagpipes, and piano are all on the list of instruments I’ve abandoned) and so I couldn’t justify purchasing a harp (they’re really expensive) until I have some idea of whether I’ll stick with it. The obvious answer is to rent a harp, but finding a place to rent a harp from is a whole different set of logistics, and for the past five years I’ve been moving back between Maine and Michigan anyway, and I just hadn’t been able to make it happen yet.

Friday. As I left the Town Office, a familiar shape caught my eye. I’ve developed a sort of ingrained reaction to harp-shaped things, thanks to the amount of time I’ve spent drawing/researching/writing about/thinking about harps. An automatic, head-turn, what’s-that-now? sort of thing. There was a cork board covered in business cards, and the one my eye flew to featured a photograph of a pedal harp, and the words, “The Harp Lady.” The card mentioned weddings, dinners, concerts, parties, events, aaaand…. LESSONS. Harp Lady, I said as I unpinned the card, you are JUST who I’ve been looking for.

When I got home I sent her an email right away, wondering about her lesson prices and if she was currently taking students and whether she was aware of any options for renting a harp in the area. Not having access to a harp is a pretty major stumbling block to learning to play one, and judging by some of the rental prices I found online it would take me a few weeks to raise the money. So I was really, really excited and hopeful, but I figured it would still be a little while before the whole thing came together.

The Harp Lady called me one hour after I emailed her(!). Not only was she willing to set up a lesson with me, she has a Harpsicle harp available to rent(!!!), and both of these for such reasonable prices that I could come up with the necessary cash in a few days. EEP! So we scheduled a lesson for Wednesday. Tomorrow. I am SO EXCITED.

I’m also a little scared, because I know I have romantic notions about harping but any instrument is hard work when you get down to it and what if it’s just the same as every other instrument I’ve tried to learn and I give up before I really get anywhere? At the same time, I really want this. The one time I sat with a harp last year (trembling, hardly daring to touch it) I loved the feel of it on my shoulder, and the way my hands shaped a chord (thumbs up, first and middle fingers down, one two three). I’m genuinely excited for the actual act of playing and learning, not just for the after part when I’ve already learned to play brilliantly.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about any of the instruments I’ve tried before, and I am so hoping that this time, I’ll get it right. At any rate, it’s too late to turn back. Tomorrow, the journey begins.

I will let you know how it goes.

Open Mic and Hard Times for Writing

Hello Blog readers.

I am sitting at a desk.

And you are watching me crawl out of a writing slump.

I likely brought it down on myself by being too gosh-darn optimistic the last time I posted about writing. You can read that one here. It’s a good one, and it’s still true. That’s still where I’m at. It’s still time to get to it, and there’s no time for writing lazy.

Still, I haven’t even responded to comments on that post, or really followed any of your blogs in the past few weeks. I haven’t updated the Wanderlust facebook page, or even responded to some facebook messages on my own wall from good friends of mine. What’s that all about? I don’t know, but I’ve always operated in cycles. Sometimes I can be the extraverted person, who not only wants to interact with the world but is capable of doing so. Other times, I fall into to an introverted place where any form of communication or putting myself out there is… not impossible, but really hard. Also, writing slump. I’ve been lazy, and I haven’t had anything to tell you.

I could have told you about singing at an open mic last Friday. Brother was visiting for the weekend and played keyboard with us. It’s been years since I’ve worked with a voice teacher or anything and I could probably use some help polishing those high notes, but overall we didn’t sound too bad. Check it out on the facebook page (because apparently I can’t post videos here without giving wordpress.com more money):

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=374371732642080&notif_t=video_processed

Some big news: on Tuesday, I’m hitting the road. My Aunt and Uncle are packing up their house in Maine and moving all their stuff to North Carolina, and they need an extra driver on the way South (two people + 2 loaded vehicles = no one to trade off with/ keep drivers awake. 3 people + 2 vehicles gives you some more leeway). They’re sending me back on the Greyhound, and of course I’m planning a few more stops on the way North. Of most interest to you folks, you potential Wanderlust fans you, is that I’m hoping to spend a few nights in Washington D.C. Maybe you don’t know, but Wanderlust Chapters 3, 4, 5, and some of 6 all take place in Washington DC—Washington DC in October. I’m excited to get some more reference photos for the illustrations in this section of the book. Also, how much easier will it be to write about a place I’ve just visited, instead of a place I’m remembering from, what, Spring 2010? I’m hoping the trip will help inspire a few scenes in the city that are falling a little flat right now.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted, and I will keep working, and get back to maintaining that regular internet presence as soon as I can.

-Grace out