Friday, November 18, 2011

Bali: Part Four

I have been home from Thailand for two years. Which makes it all the more ridiculous when I realized I have yet to finish writing about my travels there. Last I last off with Bali: Part Three when we arrived in a little town called Ubud at an absolutely beautiful guest house. And so it's there that I begin.

I could easily live in Ubud. You know how you can travel to a place for the first time and feel just right there? That's how I felt the whole time I was in Ubud. Like things just fit.

But really it's not hard to fit in Ubud. It's sort of an expat/backpacker/lost boys paradise, like what a town would look like if it started as a tree house. You see all the foreigners wandering around with dazed, happy looks on their face, as if they just can't believe their luck to be in such a place. It is that rare type of town that manages to be accessible to tourists without the presence of those same tourists ruining it and stripping it of all its charm and uniqueness.

Ubud, like the rest of Bali exists in an explosion of eternal green. It's a relatively small town, made of little cream stone buildings with dark brown roofs, along with some more modern hotels (Julia Roberts did stay there while filming Eat, Pray, Love after all, but more on that later). The locals there are like they are everywhere in Bali-friendly and bemused by all the attention the rest of the world pays to their little island. Also like everywhere in Bali a haze of incense and spiritual belief hangs in the air in Ubud. People go about their business and live their lives there. There are markets full of small religious statues and deeply colored scarves, stalls with every fruit you'd ever see at Whole Foods times 100. Little temples pop up as frequently, their pillars draped with colorful fabric. The great thing about Ubud is that it doesn't feel like a Disney theme park version of an exotic island, the way some tourist locales feel. It simply is itself, motorcycles and monkeys on the side of the road and all. It's been there for thousands of years. It will be there for thousands of years. And it feels like that, permanent and solid. You go to so many places, especially in our nation and nothing feels that way. Everything is shiny and suburban new and it just screams temporary. You can't get a firm footing, because there isn't one. It's like a city made of sand castles.

But Ubud is the opposite of that. It's anchored deeply into the ground beneath it.

You can tell that Ubud is the kind of city where people visit and then find it impossible to leave. It's full of expats and their businesses. Which makes for some tremendous eating and shopping. But again it doesn't feel cheap or gaudy. These are people who love this town as much as the locals and you can see it in the way their businesses blend so seamlessly into the town around them. But for someone who does enjoy some creature comforts from the West it makes Ubud such a delight, because you really have the best of both worlds. While we were there we tried to dabble in both of these worlds. One day we ate at Ibu Oka, a traditional Balinese restaurants that serves suckling pig (and roasts it whole right in front of the restaurant). If you've seen the Anthony Bourdain where he visits Bali you've seen the inside of this awesome place.

I am not even a pig kind of gal normally. But this was pig made with divine inspiration. It was tender and flavorful and I ate that chunk of crispy pig skin (with just the most thin, beautiful layer of fat underneath) and pile of cracklings like I was raised on pig skin and cracklings (for the record I was not). We sat on the floor at low tables in the open air restaurant and sipped local Bintang beer, and again, it just fit. It felt easy.

But then Ubud also is stuffed full of great "Western"restaurants. We found a little coffee shop that was straight out of Durham, NC or Boulder, CO or any other college town full of hippies. But it also was infused with the feel of Bali-relaxed, unpretentious, peaceful. No one was in a hurry there. People of all different nationalities sipped coffee and ate bagels on soft, colorful couches as music played. Signs for yoga classes and bike trips were hung all over the walls. Friends chatted about dinner plans. People were friendly, unhurried, eager to exchange stories over hours and multiple cups of espresso.

Or the unbelievably good Italian restaurant we found owned by an Italian expat. I have been to Italy but the Italian food I had at this restaurant was, if not better, pretty darn close to being as good as the food there. We sat up on the open air roof, in the warm, humid air, and sipped wine and ate amazingly good pasta and gnocchi and bruschetta with anchovies. Couples and families sat nearby. I remember looking from the roof over this view:

And just feeling so grateful to be in this place, so at peace with my life in that moment. We liked this Italian restaurant so much (along with its free Wifi and close proximity to our guest house) that we went for two consecutive nights. On the second night the city lost power (blackouts are common in Bali, remember, Julia Roberts movies and all, this is still a tiny island in the middle of the Indian ocean), and we assumed the owners would close things up. But when we asked our waitress she assured us it was fine. Candles were lit, more bottles of wine were opened, and the kitchen made do and food continued to appear. Since we had our laptops we opened up our iTunes and supplied the music (there was music playing before the power went out, we're not animals). It was just this perfect night, watching the darkening town around us, eating incredible Italian food in Bali of all places, listening to the sound of geckos and birds.

We spent the days shopping in the markets or at the many little boutiques that lined the city. The main road of Bali ran in a loop so we would simply walk in circles, catching places we might have missed on our second rotation. There were a few English language bookstores, and there is nothing I love more when I'm traveling in a foreign country than a good English language bookstore. Eat, Pray, Love was, unsurprisingly, prominently featured. The funny thing was they were actually filming the movie when we were there, in and near Ubud. Clearly the town was a little abuzz with this. But when we asked a Balinese person at a bookstore about the movie, and about the medicine man healer, Ketut, who supposedly still lives in Ubud, he merely laughed and told us not to waste our time visiting Ketut. He was a quack.

Which true or not true, I think displays very nicely the sense of humor and characteristic lack of BS of Balinese people. 

Side note: My friend and I were this close to being in the movie. Well kind of. At the coffee shop I mentioned a British woman came up to us and told us her daughter was involved in casting with the film. They needed an extra for a scene in a pharmacy, a woman whose role was to walk in and say she needed hemorrhoid cream. The woman took pictures of both of us and sent them to her daughter. As she did it she told us we weren't quite right. The extra was supposed to be 1) British 2) in her 30s and 3) heavy. Which I think both of us were kind of okay with the fact that we didn't look like we could play an older, fatter person with painful hemorrhoids. They got our numbers and said they would call if we checked out. If you've seen Eat, Pray, Love then you probably know I am not in it. Thus we never got a call. However even if we had been "cast", there is no scene in that movie with a plump British woman asking for such a cream, so we would have been cut anyway. 

We weren't too crushed by this near brush with fame. After all we couldn't be in Ubud. I know it sounds like an exaggeration to keep calling it paradise, but well, it's the closest I've ever come on Earth to paradise. We spent an entire morning at this insanely beautiful spa nestled right in the midst of all that Technicolor green nature that is everywhere in Bali. 

This was my massage room. I know, I hate past me a little too. For about a fifth of what it would cost in the US, we got facials and massages and just pampered to within an inch of our lives. Then because we were not blissed out enough, we took a yoga class here:

This was an open air studio so it might as well have been hot yoga. A puddle of sweat formed around me on the floor. But even though the class kicked my butt, when it came time for "namaste" I could feel the massive, dopey grin on my face. 

I was one of them now, one of those buzzed looking foreigners. Because I couldn't not be. I bought art! That's how zen'd out happy I was. I found an art gallery and bought a painting. I've never bought a painting. But I wanted something physical to take with me, some talisman of my time in Ubud, that I could hang up on my wall and look at every day. I carried that painting in its giant tube through Jakarta to Thailand to Japan to Chicago to Richmond. But even though it was a hassle, I liked having it. I liked being able to hold on to it, to feel the weight of it, to reassure myself that there was a part of this place still with me, and that if I had a part of it that meant I wouldn't be truly gone from it. 

Or maybe I just needed something to convince myself it hadn't all been a dream. Because it should have been.

I remember loading up our suitcases into our lovely friend, Guspur's van for the last time. We said goodbye to our kind guesthouse owners, to our lovely little room with its porch and koi pond. I watched out the window and saw Ubud go past, with its traditional Balinese temples and markets and its expat cafes and restaurants, with its men zipping past on motorbikes and monkeys perched on ledges. And I felt bereft. Out of everywhere I traveled (not counting Thailand), leaving Bali was by far the hardest.

We hugged Guspur goodbye at the Denpasar airport. And I just knew I wasn't leaving this nice place I visited once. I was leaving a friend and an island that had so thoroughly infiltrated its way down into my very core. I felt Bali in my veins when I was there. I think anyone would. 

It took me four blogs to write about Bali, but I still feel like I didn't even come close to doing it justice. It's not just that it was beautiful, although of course it was, more soul shatteringly beautiful than almost anywhere I've ever seen. It wasn't just the people, who were so kind and so generous and lovely. 

There was something else there, something like the incense that filled the air, shifting and intangible and impossible to pin down or carry away. 

I can't write that. You have to live it. I am and always will be grateful that for ten days I lived it. Bali is in my heart now, soft and shimmering, like the memory of a dream. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two completely unrelated things.

1. Holy crap you guys I registered for the 2012 Richmond MARATHON. Excuse me while I go throw up.  But really this is a very tentative registration. I mainly did it because starting at midnight tonight the fee jumps $15, and I am nothing if not tempted by a bargain. But I am not 100% committed yet. If the summer rolls around and I don't feel ready I will probably just do the 1/2 again. But I'd like to aim for the full shebang. Because the truth is I'm 26. Once the 2012 marathon runs around I will be 27 (I know, I might as well order my casket and pick out a burial plot now). 

And one of my more recent life goals is to run a full marathon. And really why wait? Running 26.2 miles is an INSANE thing to do to your body. Like bat shit, nut balls, bonkers insane. But it gets even more insane the older you get. And yes, I realize many people in their 30s and 40s and 50s and even 60s and 70s run marathons and run them faster than my 26 year old butt ever could. That's awesome. But I am not one of those people. I am not going to be a limber 70 year old who competes in triathlons and eats raw eggs for breakfast. I am not even a particularly limber 26 year old. I have hip problems people. In my mid-20s. And one thing I've learned from my anatomy classes is that for women, when it comes to the health of our bones, it's really just all downhill from here, no matter how much cheese you (and by you I mean I) eat. So if I want to avoid permanently maiming myself in the pursuit of the insane goal that is running a marathon, my best bet is to do it while I'm (relatively) young.

Although let's not kid ourselves. I will probably still permanently maim myself. I had to see a sports medicine doctor from training for a 10k. Me running a marathon is like a water buffalo doing ballet. But maybe this is my one unlikely, scrappy underdog sports movie moment. Stay tuned.

2. I've already full switched my Richmond allegiance to Kroger (except for trips I make to Martin's solely to get Ukrop's bakery items or deli tuna), but here's an even better reason to shop Kroger, especially for the next two days. When I went in to pick up some groceries this evening, I was handed a little card from a nice lady at the front of the store with a list of urgently needed items for the Central Virginia Food Bank. The great thing was you could pick up items from the list and drop them off on your way out of the store, easy as pie. And I looked down at the list, and knew there was no way I was leaving that store without buying some items for it. The needed items were things I buy all the time- pasta, canned tuna, peanut butter, and never give a second thought to. And it's rightfully heartbreaking that for some people, right in our own city, those insignificant and inexpensive grocery store items, have all the weight in the world. Kroger is doing this until the 19th, and I just really urge anyone who reads this to make a trip to the grocery store. You don't have to load up your entire cart with the items (although I saw one woman in the canned vegetables aisle who was clearly doing this and I wanted to stop and give her a hug), but even if you just grab an extra box of pasta or a can of tuna to donate along with your normal groceries, those items mean so much. That's a meal. That's a night not having to worry about getting dinner on the table.

Most things get to me, but hunger and the lack of food especially hit a nerve.

When I was in Haiti we would try to hand out some of our food to the kids who always come to the construction sites, pieces of energy bars or bags of chips. These kids weren't dying of starvation but they had no fat on them and were clearly hungry. Food wasn't assured in their lives. I'll never forget how whenever I gave some food to one of the older kids, they would never eat it, not until they made sure their younger siblings had something first. I'd watch them as they handed granola bars and cups of water to their siblings, watch the eyes of these eleven and twelve year olds as they took care of others first.

These children, who had so little, who had almost nothing, wouldn't eat until their little brothers and sisters ate.

I should think about that more. Because in some ways it's easier, when you have everything, when you've never been hungry, to forget about those who are. Which all just brings me back to what Kroger is doing with their Feed Richmond campaign. It's really great. And I hope that everyone in this city does some grocery shopping this weekend, and throws an extra couple of things in the cart. Because it's a great and beautiful idea, making sure others have food before we ourselves eat.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Must List

1. The first official trailer for The Hunger Games movie:

I may or may not have watched this ten times today when I should have been either a) studying for nursing school or b) working on freelance stuff. But to borrow a rather vulgar phrase, OMFG, you guys. So pumped about this movie. In general I am not a fan of the month of March (is it winter, is it summer? make up your mind and stop being a fence-sitter March), but now that month cannot come soon enough. Right now it's just too good to be true with how close this trailer is to how I pictured everything in my mind. Okay I may not have pictured Lenny freaking Kravitz as Cinna, or Woody Harrelson as Haymitch for that matter, but now that I've seen them in those roles I think they're perfect. And that terrifying, clammy, anxiety fueled countdown at the end before the games kick off-just so, so good. Okay I'm going to go watch it one more time.

2. My one-year-old (almost two year old niece). It's been a while since I've bragged about her, and that's a shame. Because she is so brag-worthy. She is a baby genius. She spent the weekend here (one year old as a house guest for three days + running a half marathon=my energy reserves completely wiped out), and every time I see her she blows me away with her awesomeness. It's hard to pick out examples from the many, but here are just a few.

-One of her tricks is to pick up a phone, hold it out to a nearby adult and say "order pizza?" I mean come on. That's just adorable and practical. 

-When she got really fussy I would let her watch Elmo videos on Youtube, and her expression would go from fussy and pouty to just transfixed. Elmo lit up her world. She would grin and her eyes would light up and I think the love between a baby and Elmo may be the purest love there is in this world. 

-Another one of her tricks is to shout "OH NO" every time anything drops or falls. It's beyond words in cuteness. 

-One afternoon she started to play a game none of us had seen before. She shouted "ATTACK of the mumble mumble" and kept running to each person in the room and grabbing on to them. Over and over again. We finally realized she was shouting "attack of the hugger." She probably learned this in day care. However I like to think that my genius niece came up with it completely on her own. 

-She takes baby swim lessons and is so obsessed with it that the majority of what comes out of her mouth is either "baby pool" or "bathing suit."

3. The fact that Starbucks has started their Christmas cups.

4. Mindy Kaling's new book. A brief sampling from her chapter, "Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real"

"The Klutz
When a beautiful actress is in a movie, executives wrack their brains to find some kind of flaw in her that still allows her to be platable. She can't be overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would want to see that? A not 100-percent perfect-looking-in-every-way female? You might as well film a dead squid decaying on a beach somewhere for two hours.
So they make her a Klutz.
The 100-perfect-perfect-looking female is perfect in every way, except that she constantly falls down. She bonks her head on things. She trips and falls and spills soup on her affable date. (Josh Lucas. Is that his name? I know it's two first names. Josh George? Brad Mike? Fred Tom? Yes, it's Fred Tom.) Our Klutz clangs int Stop signs while riding a bike, and knocks over giant displays of expensive fine china. Despite being five foot nine and weighing 110 pounds, she is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society. But Fred Tom loves her anyway."

And also just because this sentence kicks butt, "Having a challenging job in movies means the compassionate, warm, or sexy side of your brain has fallen out."

So really go buy this book. 

Half Marathon Recap

At about mile 11.5. I look refreshed and thrilled. In my brain my thoughts at the moment went like this: "blerrrrgggggg"

So I ran the MCDONALDS half marathon on Saturday. I feel like I need to capitalize the word MCDONALDS anytime I use it, because that's how much I love the irony of the creator of Big Macs sponsoring a physical fitness event. For posterity I thought I'd do a little recap. Also because I'm pretty sure aliens have entire programs of study devoted to the eternal mystery of why humans run in circles en masse, and this blog could be a useful addition to that syllabus. 

On Friday I ate a ton of carbs (as one does) and drank so much regular water and coconut water that my pee was Olympic gold medal levels of clear and colorless. Let's just say I knew I wasn't going to win the race, but I could sure kick some major butt when it comes to hydration (sadly they do not list hydration winners in the paper). I got up at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday, shoved a banana and a Nutrigrain bar down my nervous throat and focused all my energy on, well, how do I put this delicately, "letting the contents of my colon get to their finish line." (Okay that somehow sounds way grosser than just saying poop).

If you know me you will be shocked I am talking about the p-word. I don't like to talk about it. I will NEVER do it in close proximity to anyone. That's why I don't do that in public restrooms. EVER. But I'm becoming a nurse and it's shocking how much feces has become a routine part of life. It just shows up and everyone who works in medicine shrugs and says what's the big deal. And I want to document the lesser known parts of the long distance running experience, and believe me, this is one of them. You do not want to run 13.1 miles with certain things unresolved, if you know what I mean.

I once had to go into a Starbucks half way through a ten mile training run, pretend to buy a fruit and nut bar (okay I legitimately bought it, only I had to throw it away immediately because I didn't want to run with it for the next five miles), just so I could use their (single occupancy) restroom. I really did not want to do this during the race. Sure there were porta potties, but the humiliation of that experience alone (picture crowds of people around the porta potties, and having to do that while a crowd of people basically cheers you on outside) would have prevented me from crossing the finish line. So even though it was early, even though I hadn't had my fiber, I drank half a cup of very strong coffee on the morning of the race, and made absolutely darn sure that issue was taken care of before I started running.

I deeply apologize if the preceding few paragraphs offended, but if you're not a runner, you need to understand how deeply intertwined distance running and the digestive system are. That is why runners avoid high fiber foods like the plague in the days before a race. So it was only fair for me to speak of such things, as unladylike as they are to discuss on the interweb, to give an accurate picture of what a race entails. 

But moving on to other matters. I got a ride to within about 6 (uphill) blocks of the starting line at Broad  Street in front of the Library of Virginia. I passed lots of people wearing trash bags and realized that for every mystery of running I unlock, another one presents itself. I walked through the Capitol grounds and craned my head around for a Spielberg sighting. Sadly I was once again disapointed by the utter lack of Spielberg in my life. 

Finally I found my wave by the little sign with the letter H bobbing in the air. And then I stood in 30 something degree weather with very little clothing on and became instantly jealous of all those people in their cozy garbage bags. I was shocked by the number of people around me. It's always jarring to see lots of runners gathered together, and realize just how many people in this world are clinically insane. You want to know how clinically insane we are? Two years ago thirteen miles would have been unthinkable for me as a distance that I could run in one go, because at the time I was so out of shape I could not even run a mile. A year ago a 10k seemed like a giant task. 

But here I was about to run 13 miles, and every time I saw a marathon runner arrive on the scene (their start time was about half an hour after hours), I felt a twinge of shame. Those were the "real" runners. Our race was like the kid's table of the day. Those were runners. I was just a jogger, soft "j."And that's just crazy talk. Because I was about to run THIRTEEN miles. Once upon a time my brain would have exploded at the thought of that. But runners are insane, and as soon as we run one previously unthinkable distance our brain shifts to even further, more punishing mileage.

I was kind of expecting a big dramatic start for each wave, maybe with a gun shot off. But honestly over the noise of the crowd and music none of us were sure when exactly we started. People kind of just shrugged and then began to run.

The first stretch of the race, all the way up Broad to the Boulevard flew by. It flew by so fast that I got to the 2 mile marker and felt like it should say .2 miles. I felt great as we turned down Boulevard, great as we ran past the Diamond, great as we ran down a little cul-de-sac on North Side, great down Hermitage. This wasn't just easy, easier than my training runs. This was fun, capital F, exclamation point. Fun!

Here's the thing. Even if you hate running, you would probably enjoy a race, at least the first few miles of one. It's really hard not to. Because let's lay it out there. Humans are narcissists. So who is not going to love doing an activity while other people cheer for you? It is shocking how great that feels. And so many people come out for races. I am a terrible person, because in the past I never did this. But literal hordes of people do this. They come out with their kids and their dogs. They bundle up at 8am in freezing weather with signs and noise makers. They shout and they clap and they hold their hands out for high fives. 

And it's the greatest. It makes you want to run to the moon. It's just fun. It's fun to run past the water and powerade tables and see all those people there volunteering and holding out cups with smiles and words of encouragement. And so between the crowds and the gorgeous (if a little chilly) day, I was great.

And then we got to Bryan Park, a place I now refer to as the land of hills. Oh were there hills. I think I counted 5. And the thing is we were running in a loop so there was no corresponding downhill. It was just uphill followed up more uphill. And even though I didn't know it at the time, each hill was sucking my energy. I've never trained with hills, because my sports doctor told me specifically not to, because I get overuse injuries in my hip flexors, and hills strain hip flexors. When I was running the hills in the park I still felt great. In fact I felt a little cocky if truth be told. Some people had slowed down to walk at that point, and I passed a guy with a wave A bib walking (I was wave H), and I wanted to go "muhaha." 

So we left the park, I fueled up with Powerade (thank you Powerade, I have never been so indebted to a sports drink) and a few "sips" of a gel. And then when we got to Brook Road that's when the pain set in. It wasn't injury pain which is localized and specific. This was the all over, general pain of running too damn long. This is when your knees say, "okay that was a fun little jaunt, but we're tired now so stop", and then you don't stop so your hips chime in, "hey LADY, stop running, a lion isn't chasing you" and you keep going and so all of these body parts look at each other mutinously and then unleash their fury with pain, so much pain. 

I wanted to walk. And I did whenever I stopped for water or Powerade (there were stations about every 2 miles), but I only let myself walk for as long as it took to take those two or three sips of water. Not because I was this warrior runner, but because quite simply I knew that if I stopped to walk I would not start running again. The stretch on Brook Road lasted probably about a mile and a half but it felt like forever. It was never going to end. We would just keep on running down Brook Road until we were in Canada, or Mexico. 

And that's when the random, disconnected thoughts drift in. I thought about how weird it was to be able to litter with impunity during a race. You get handed a cup by this kind volunteer, you take a sip, and then you hurl it back at their feet. It's very strange, especially when you're tired and start splashing neon blue Powerade all down your front. 

Weird things happened on this stretch of the run. I don't know if people did it on purpose, but some of the things on this stretch perfectly coincided with the point in the race where I felt the most crazy. There was a beer table for example with volunteers holding out cups of beer (I love beer, but there is a time and a place people). There was a "Wonderland" with people dressed up on either the side of the road as giant rabbits and decks of cards. I have yet to confirm this "Wonderland" with another racer, so it is entirely possible I hallucinated it. 

But fever dreams and all I kept going. We reached Lombardy and one more filthy hill (I could not help but mutter "HILL!" under my breath when I saw it, as if it was my arch nemesis and this was our final face off), and then once we got to Broad and I saw my family gathered there cheering, I knew I was going to finish this thing. 

It didn't mean the pain went away. Oh no. I could no longer distinguish the pain from my legs. They were one in the same. I can't really describe it other to say that it felt like tiny midgets were running next to me hitting my joints with baseball bats and broken glass bottles. 

And this is when the cheering people aren't just a nice ego boost. They're your life blood. I can not explain how helpful it was every time I heard, "you're almost there, keep going." And I heard it again and again. Spectators shouted it. Runners who had already finished shouted it. And so I kept running, because I believed them. 

Also side note, my iPod shuffled picked like the perfect song for this moment, "Holding Out for a Hero" from Footloose, from the scene with the tractor chicken race. That is just like the most perfect, cheesiest, inspirational, 80s dance music song that could have possibly played. 

Another side note. I don't understand how people run races without music. My iPod was the MVP of that race. My Half Marathon playlist deserves its own medal for helping me get to the finish line. 

I got to Cary Street and could see the finish line. I wanted to sprint, but reminded myself that sprinting at the end of a distance run leads to very bad things. We were also going downhill, and because my legs were so tired I could barely control myself. I think sheer luck prevented me from falling down and rolling down the hill, log style, to the finish (although if that happened I bet I would have made the front page of the Times Dispatch, winner schminner).

And then it was all over. Someone was handing me a medal, and then in the next moment I had a bottle of water, bottle of Powerade, and a giant bagel to tear into. 

My legs have never hurt worse in my life. I napped for two hours later that afternoon and slept for 11 hours Saturday night. Sunday my legs were so sore I could barely move. 

And it was all worth it. So about that marathon...

One additional thing: there were two quotes that kept popping up in my brain throughout the race I'd like to share:

-One I read in some article about how Andre Agassi's famous fitness coach, Gil Reyes, used to say to him, "trust your legs." My legs stopped trusting me at about mile 10, but I trusted them. And they didn't let me down.

-Two is embarrassingly enough from a Nike commercial or ad. I don't remember it exactly but it's something like, "strong is what happens when you've used up all your weak." I like that. I think it applies equally well to life as it does to running.

The End.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chocolate and Housewives

At the beginning of today I wanted to hide under my covers and never get out. I was done. All of that stuff I wrote about in my last blog I didn't care about. I was just too tired and too drained from this week, from school and the hospital, from all of the work and stress and anxiety that went into putting together a gift guide featuring 20 gifts from TWENTY different local businesses (that had to be spread out into 4 distinct geographical regions of town-not as easy as you would think), from the anxiety of having to borrow items from those 20 local businesses, businesses that rock my world because of how generous and awesome they have been, but which, because of my Catholic upbringing, also rocked my world with fear and guilt at the thought of losing their items or messing things up or disappointing any of them.

I went for a run and instead of my usual rush of endorphins I just felt overwhelmed. And then I did the worst thing I can do when I'm overwhelmed but which I always do when I'm overwhelmed. I thought of my beautiful Charleston, and of how whenever I was overwhelmed or stressed there I found myself in my car on the way to one of the beaches. And thinking of this just made me ache. Because all I wanted and needed was one of those beach walks, to feel sand under my toes and smell salt and have the noise of wind and waves drown out all thoughts. My heart is still pulling me there, only now those beaches aren't just a 15 minutes drive away.

So all this happened. I wallowed and I stressed and I felt at the verge of snapping.

Which is why I immediately did the only logical thing a person could do in this situation. I ate some absolutely bonkers insanely good chocolate from Chocolate Cravings, made myself a cup of hot cocoa (coconut flavored from Apropos Roasters! yummm), and turned on the TV to the Real Housewives of Atlanta marathon. And I stopped. I stopped everything else. It can all wait.

Because there comes a point in every woman's life when she just need to stuff her face with sugar and watch Kim and Nene yell at each other.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My life is weird.

I know now what it's like to be Sydney Bristow from Alias, leading a double life, switching identities at the drop of a hat. Minus all the killing people and wigs. 

What I'm trying to emphasize is that my life is weird. Like fever dream weird. Sometimes I have to concentrate really hard to make myself believe that my days aren't dreams. Because today, for example, went like this:

-I went to my clinical at the hospital and spent 5 hours in a hospital. The issues at hand during these 5 hours included ventilators, arterial blood gasses, DNR's, people very near death and/or trying very hard to live, making beds, watching people give shots, etc. 

-I left the hospital and spent the next 4 hours driving around Richmond, picking up gift items to borrow for a holiday gift guide in Belle magazine (it comes out in December, I feel like this gift guide is my child at this point, it took over thirty hours of work, it was exhausting, sometimes painful, but in the end one of my proudest achievements-so yeah I gave birth to it). The issues at hand during these 4 hours were: color preference, poodle bookends, getting prices right, finding chalk for a chalkboard wine bottle holder).

These two scenarios are different yes? Juggling both worlds would make one slightly schizophrenic, agreed?

But here's the thing. I LOVE both of these worlds. I always, always want to have this schizophrenic life, with nursing as my day job and writing as my art and passion and creative outlet. But I also am coming to terms with the fact that it makes for a very strange life.

You would think I would need to keep these worlds completely separate. And I do to a degree. Because I really will become Sybil if I can't separate writing a play review from giving someone a dose of insulin.  But I'm also finding that I can use each of these worlds to help me handle the other one better.

Spending time around very sick people has a way of giving you instant perspective. And I try to use that when I'm out and about as a freelance writer. When I'm freaking out about a deadline or about getting copy right, all I need to do is think about my experiences in the hospital to lessen that stress. I want to do well at my job, but thinking about the hospital, I can remember very quickly that, in the big scheme of things, no job is worth losing sleep over. Life is too short and too fragile. We pretend it isn't and purposefully avoid all evidence of that fragility, but you spend 5 minutes in a hospital and that illusion is gone. But knowing that can be a blessing. Because it forces you to keep things in perspective, to not stress out about the little things and to be grateful for the big ones.

 Also today, specifically because I spent 5 hours in a hospital, I had one of the best runs of my life. Running can seem like a pain and a chore and something we force ourselves to do. But my God, when you've seen people who can't move or talk or even breathe on their own, running feels like the most beautiful thing you can possibly do. I may lose this in a few days time, but today I was aware, completely, of what a gift and a privilege it is that I can run. I've never been so acutely aware of my heart beating or my lungs working, of the blood running through my veins and my muscles contracting and flexing, because I had just witnessed what the absence of those things look like. And once they're gone they may be gone for good. And so why in the world shouldn't we just luxuriate in the miracle of our working, functioning, healthy bodies? If you need a reason to run you shouldn't need any other one other than the fact that you  have the capacity to run, that you have two strong legs and a heart and a pair of lungs that will keep up with you no matter how much you push them.  Run to celebrate that fact.

But it's not just spending time in a hospital that helps my life on the outside. It works the other way too.
When I'm in the hospital (and right now it's easy peasy-5 hours every couple of weeks, starting next semester I will be spending more and more of my time there until I probably will just set up camp). But I digress. When I'm in the hospital and especially when I'm in a hospital for long periods of time, I know that I'm going to need my freelance life, and all of the tiny, trivial little details that come with it to keep me strong. There's such a thing as too much perspective. In a hospital I think it's probably very easy to get consumed with the starkness of things, with the monstrous scope of  how big the stakes are. There's no room for triviality when it comes to dealing with sick or injured people. All that matters is doing everything possible to make them better or to at the very least make them more comfortable. 

Which is why I think it's probably going to be incredibly important to stock up on and literally horde all of the nice, happy details that I come across in my freelance work. With that it's all about the small things. And I think I'm going to need that contrast, because part of being alive and healthy is having the luxury of caring about the little things, of caring about them profoundly simply because we can. 

And this is probably all a little rambling and overly deep, but I guess I'm just trying to sort all of this out, because right now it's still hard. Right now I'm still getting used to going from standing by the bed of a person at the end of their life in the morning and writing about jewelry in the afternoon. It's incredibly strange, and it's exhausting.

But I'm getting there. I'm getting to the point where my life A not only exists along side my life B, but helps make it better and more meaningful. Where my life B helps strengthen me and fortify me to deal with the harder parts of life A.

And if I didn't emphasize this enough I encourage you to really think about it, the next time you go for a run or work out or just go for a long walk. It's a gift. Try to hold that thought inside of you. I know I will. 
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