Friday, April 29, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Water for Elephants

Last night I went to see Water for Elephants with LNRB and Sarah.  I'd been looking forward to seeing the movie for quite a while, since I'm such a big Sara Gruen fan in general, and because ever since I read the book several years ago, I knew it would make a great film.  Plus, I always jump at the chance to see a movie in an actual theater.  It's one of the things I miss most from my pre-mom life.
I'm not going to post a movie review here, because I don't want anyone confusing my opinion of the film with my opinion of the book.  Overall it was an enjoyable movie, particularly the animal scenes, but I wasn't a huge fan of the way they handled the present-day storyline (no mention of where the title comes from, for example).  The casting was a little bit odd to me as well, despite the fact that I like all the actors (of course, it was a completely brilliant move to cast Robert Pattinson as the lead - I'm sure droves of teenage girls who would otherwise have had no interest in the film will line up to see it).  However, none of that really mattered because the true star of the film, Rosie the Elephant, was absolutely fabulous.  Made me want a pet elephant, truth be told.

(By the way, I wouldn't ask LNRB for her opinion of the movie; she hid behind her hair for a good third of it.)

Admit it, you want a pet elephant too.

Regardless of anything else, the movie was very inspiring to me as a writer.  I'm a very visual thinker; when I write, I play out every scene in my head like a film.  If I am ever lucky enough to have a book published, I think one of my greatest aspirations would be to have one of my books made into a film.  While it's true that film adaptations of books can be hellacious (The Da Vinci Code, anyone?), as a writer, I think it must be so thrilling to see your characters come to life in that way.

In fact, I was so inspired to come up with a book idea worthy of being made into a film that I couldn't go to sleep last night.  Somewhere around midnight inspiration struck.  I wasn't sure if it was actually a good idea at the time - sometimes things that seem really genius in the middle of the night look absolutely ridiculous in the harsh light of day - but I'm fairly confident it could be awesome.  Here's a hint: it involves horses.

One of my favorite scenes from the film.
I'm happy to say this week has ended on a good note.  My friend hosted a lovely Royal Wedding Play Date this morning, someone apparently performed an exorcism on my child because Jack is back to his delightful self, and I haven't had a single rejection since Wednesday.  Of course, there are several business hours left in the day...
Ah well, nothing a little Easter candy can't solve.  Or a pet elephant.  Mother's Day is coming up.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Foreign Service Timeline

Last week I finally figured out why I have such a global audience.  My blog was listed on a Foreign Service blog as a "Future FSO blog."  I know how obsessive all you future-FSOs can be, since I'm married to one, so I wanted to first clarify that it's my husband joining the Foreign Service, not me, and second, he will not go to A100 until next year, because he doesn't get out of the Marine Corps until then.
But I know that isn't enough for the really obsessive people who haven't even taken the test yet, so here, courtesy of my husband, is his timeline:

FSOT October 7, 2010
FSOT Results October 28, 2010
PNQ Submitted November 17, 2010
QEP Results January 24, 2011
FSOA March 18, 2011 @ Annex 44 (5.75 Political)
Security Clearance granted April 13, 2011
Medical Clearance April 27, 2011
Final Suitability Review pending

Deferred Register until December 15, 2011

As far as I know Jack and I have been medically cleared (although my chest x-ray was still pending from the hospital and Jack's TB test was last week, so it might not be totally finished yet). 

Since scores seem to be down this year (and it seems like a lot fewer people are passing the Orals altogether), we're hoping John's score is high enough for him to be called off the register fairly quickly (we'd really like it to happen before he gets out of the Marines, anyway, so he's not unemployed!), but you never know.  He's brushing up on his Russian just in case.

Hope that helps!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Moment

Last week a good friend of ours asked if I'd ever thought about what it would be like if (He said "when," but I'm not that optimistic right now.) I get a literary agent.  We didn't really get a chance to discuss it at the time, so he asked if I'd write a blog post about it.  I'm slightly paranoid that I might jinx myself by putting it into words, but here goes:

First off, I have absolutely, positively thought about what that moment would feel like.  In fact, I think about it pretty much constantly.  I have to force myself not to think about it at night because it keeps me awake.  I think about it every time I get an email, every time my phone rings, every time I'm working on my book or typing up a query letter or when I'm showering, working out, feeding Jack, etc.  It's kind of amazing I'm able to function, really, given how all-consuming these thoughts are.
A lot of authors with blogs or websites have a section devoted to this moment.  It's usually called "The Call," because most of the time when an agent wants to represent you, they call you (sometimes they send you an email to tell you they want to set up a time to talk on the phone, but eventually it leads to a call).  I don't get too many phone calls, usually only from Sarah, John, or my mom (Does that make me sound really pathetic?), but lately I've been getting a lot of "spam" phone calls, where the second you say "Hello?" a recorded voice says "Congratulations!  You've just won..."  That's usually about where I hang up.  Most of the time these calls are from places like North Dakota or Idaho, where I don't know a single living soul.  But lately the calls have been coming from New York, which is particularly cruel since most literary agents are in New York.
But I digress.

My fantasies about getting an agent vary.  Sometimes I imagine myself picking up the phone, expecting it to be a spam call, when lo!  An actual human being speaks to me!
"Hello," she says.  "Is Mara there?" 
"Speaking," I say suspiciously.  Surely this is a solicitor or a doctor's office.
"Hi Mara.  My name is Ms. Agent Extraordinaire, and I'd like to talk to you about representing your novel."
At this point I force myself to take a deep breath so I don't pass out.  The details get a little fuzzy from there, but you get the idea.

In another fantasy, I'm out having coffee with friends and I glance down to see I have a voicemail.  As I'm leaving coffee, I check the message and lo!  An actual human speaks to me!
"This message is for Mara.  I'd like to talk to you about representing your novel."
I scream so loud my friends, who are halfway down the street at this point, turn to make sure I'm not having some sort of attack.
"I got an agent!" I yell, then start running down the street like a mad woman, Jack watching me dubiously from his stroller (don't worry - I put the brake on).

I sometimes imagine the moment comes in the form of an email.  This is actually preferable, because it gives me time to compose myself before responding.  But the general idea is always the same - I try to imagine what that feeling will be like, when I open the email or answer the phone and it's good news instead of the bad news I've had every single time until now.  I've come extremely close, and those moments have been as amazing as I've imagined they would be.
For example, when the bestselling author who sort of took me under her wing sent me this email just before John was coming home from his second deployment:

"Dear Mara: It's wonderful you'll be with your husband again -- I hope you guys have a wonderful reunion. Now, about your manuscript. I'm sending to Agent X, an agent at ____. We'll see, Catherine
p.s. the senior reader loved your manuscript, said it should be published post haste, went on and on. As I said, we'll see."
I nearly died of happiness.  I think the best part was that my mom was with me, and she asked me for the first time what my book was about.  (This was for my last novel, in 2008; as you can see, I've been at this for a while now.) 
Of course there have been other good moments along the way; I've had ten requests for materials with this novel and two requests for resubmission.  Those are actually pretty good numbers.   But the end result has always been the same so far.

You know that moment of anticipation, right before you find out if you got the job you've been vying for, or how you did on the big exam, or if you've won the lottery?  Okay, I've never thought it was remotely possible that I'd win the lottery, but I can imagine what it must be like for that person who has four out of five numbers, their blood pounding in their ears, their palms sweating, their stomach in knots and then BAM!  The fifth number is revealed!  
And it doesn't match.  All that adrenaline leaves your body at once.  Your skin gets clammy.  Your stomach turns sour.  You go from elation to dejection in an instant.  I've had that feeling more times than I care to admit. 

I'm just waiting for that day when the fifth number matches up.  And you know what?
I have a feeling it's going to be even better than I imagine.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I Blame TV... And Tomatoes

I've come to a realization.  Two actually.
The first is that I don't like tomatoes on sandwiches.  Sarah, I think you came to this realization recently, and I didn't understand it until today when I went to make a cheese sandwich.  Tomatoes are soggy and my Trader Joe's wheat bread can't stand up to them.  I make an exception for ciabata.
There, I've said it.

The second realization came when I was watching one of my favorite television shows, Parenthood.  If you've never seen it, it's a great show.  Sure, it's a little hard to believe that two parents, four children and their spouses, and six grandchildren would all live within driving distance of each other, in one of the most expensive areas of California no less, but I love all the actors and I think it's a really sweet show.
This morning, I'm sorry to say, Parenthood kind of pissed me off.  I was watching last week's episode while running on the treadmill, and before long I was sobbing my way through a scene wherein one of the characters survives a horrible car accident.  Not long after, however, I was scowling while that character's mother, a bartender and single mom who has never written anything before in her life, stands in the rear of an auditorium with aforementioned daughter, watching a play.
You see, a few episodes ago, the mom stayed up for one whole night and wrote that play.  She was immediately introduced to a famous stage producer, who just happened to be a Vietnam pal of her dad's, and who, naturally, lived within driving distance.  He in turn introduced her to a director, and the next thing you know, the entire family has gathered for the premiere of her play.
Sure, this series of events was probably supposed to take place over the course of six months, not six weeks, but regardless of timeline, it's ridiculous.  I realize that there are far less realistic television shows (I watch The Vampire Diaries, okay?), but it drives me crazy when this kind of thing happens on TV or in movies.  You know, how every single teenager automatically gets into an Ivy League school?  Or how book deals seem to fall magically from the heavens directly into the laps of characters who have never expressed an interest in writing?

Somewhere around the three-mile mark, it dawned on me: No wonder I have completely unrealistic expectations about how quickly this whole book thing should happen.  I am constantly surrounded by images of people getting exactly what they want, no matter how unattainable, almost instantly.  I don't want to sell my book when I'm forty.  I want it to happen yesterday!
Fortunately, I have John around to remind me to take "the long view."  And my friend Margot, who told me that one day I'll look back and be grateful for all the waiting and worrying, because it makes success that much sweeter.
I have to admit, there's something to be said for delayed gratification.  Like waiting until after I worked out to eat my delicious avocado and cheese sandwich.
Hold the tomatoes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

This is Jack's Easter bunny.  Jack liked him for a little while; then he got bored and went back to saying "No, no, nooooo."

The Easter bunny and I are fed up.

This week was long and awful.  After Jack's three days of fever (which went away as mysteriously as it arrived), he developed a rash all over his body, and today I discovered that one of his front teeth is chipped.  I think it's unrelated to his moodiness (from laughter to tears in two seconds flat), but I'd prefer that his teeth were intact.  When you only have eight, every tooth counts.

But the worst was the rejection I got on Friday afternoon.  Remember how I said that "rejection gets easier?"  Well, I lied.  Yes, it's easier to brush off the rejections on query letters when you've amounted a couple dozen, but this was from the agent who had read the first three chapters two weeks ago and then requested the rest of the manuscript.  This was a big agent who I would have been thrilled to have represent me.  There was no feedback, just the general, "You're a terrific writer, but I just didn't connect with the material."  Which I think translates to: "There's nothing in particular wrong with your manuscript, but we didn't love it enough to have it be one of the four or five projects we take on this year."  While it's good to know that they don't think I'm a horrible writer or hate the premise of my novel, it's also very frustrating to not know what you're doing wrong.  Ugh.

Hopefully things will start to look up this week.  I still have three agents with my manuscript, I'm hoping to send out more query letters this week, and I'm getting ready to submit a short story (my first!) to a literary magazine.  Fingers crossed!

For now, the bunny and I are chilling on the couch, enjoying a brief respite from Jack's wrath.  Only seventeen pounds of Easter candy left to get through...

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three Things

I'm sure I could come up with a lot more than three things that drive me crazy about being married to an ultrarunner, but these ones are fresh in my mind:
One: Your husband can eat anything he wants - in fact, is actively encouraged by his coach to eat as many saturated fats as possible - and he still loses weight.
Two: Your well-intentioned mother-in-law, who hates to see her son losing weight, sends all kinds of delicious treats in the mail for your husband (and, inevitably, you) to nosh on.  Last month, it was a box of four different desserts (brownies, cookies, chocolate cake, and individual chocolate cakes); this month, it's eighteen pounds of Easter candy.
Three: You have two hours, give or take, every evening to spend with your husband after the offspring goes to bed.  You turn to him to strike up a conversation, and you find yourself looking at this:

No, your husband is not being treated for a rare illness that causes him to lose weight simply by breathing.  He is merely using his altitude simulator and pulse oximeter, which he will be doing for one hour, every night, for the next two months.  But don't worry, it's six minutes on, four off, so as long as you can keep your conversation to four-minute bursts, you're good to go!

And you thought your husband's golf habit was annoying...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Weekly Inspiration

Sarah and I have been discussing starting an inspiration blog (to include anything we find, well, inspiring: movies, books, fashion, music, art, people, etc.).  Until we get our act together, I thought I'd include a little weekly inspiration here.

Yesterday, a book came to our house for us to hold for a friend.  He told me to go ahead and open it, and I'm so glad I did.  Somehow I've never heard of the designer Roberto Capucci, but he is amazing!  Some of his clothing is wearable, but a lot of it is pure art.  Here are a few photos I took with my Hipstamatic App (a whole inspiration post could be done on that alone!).

I'm also really inspired by everything retro right now ('40s, '50s, and '60s) because of the book I'm writing.  Today, while waiting for the car to be worked on, I came across these adorable bikes in Hudson Trail Outfitters:

And this great car was parked right in front (didn't get a very good shot of it, unfortunately, because I didn't want anyone to see my photographing their car - you'll have to take my word on this one!):

Have any of you been inspired by something lately?  Please share!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stop and Smell the Tulips

Alright guys, here's the truth - I'm having a rough week.  I really wanted to have some fun writing news to report, but I've got nothing.

Try as I might to get my mind off my book and the endless quest for a literary agent, I seem to be obsessing.  It's all I think about all day long.  When I'm not busy with Jack, I'm reading other people's blogs, just hoping to find a story from someone in my shoes.  In fact, there are tons of these stories, and they all have happy endings; unfortunately, I fear that's because the people who never succeed don't broadcast it to the world.

I'm sure at least some of you can relate to this: you want something so badly, more than you've ever wanted anything, and you have no control over it.  You've taken all the necessary steps, and now your fate lies in someone else's hands.  John went through something similar with the Foreign Service Orals, and the three months between the Essays and Orals seemed interminable.  But at least there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  There is no deadline for literary agents.  They generally try to get back to people within three months.
I think John would agree: Three months is a REALLY LONG TIME.

Today Jack and I went up to D.C. and had lunch with Sarah.  Talking to Sarah always helps, because she understands exactly how I feel.  I promised her I'd do some work on the new book today, so that's what I'm going to do.  I just wanted to share how I'm feeling, and I'm hoping that some of you can relate!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It Takes a Village

Last night, a dear friend called me "just to vent."  Her daughter (who is very close to Jack's age) is sick, her husband is deployed, she's living in a foreign country, she's in the process of buying a house, and she's pregnant.  From where I stand, the very fact that she hasn't run screaming into the night is impressive.  But no, this amazing woman under a lion's share of stress was feeling guilty for complaining, because there are other families who have it a lot worse.  All I could tell her was to vent away!  She has certainly earned it.

Talking to this friend got me thinking a lot about how freaking hard it is to raise a kid (okay, let's be honest, I think about that every single day).  Even in the best of circumstances (healthy child, healthy parents, both parents in the same geographic location, etc.) it's the hardest job in the world.  Not to mention terrifying.  Yesterday Jack came down with a fever out of nowhere, and this morning it was up to 103.9.  Typical new(ish) mom that I am, I grabbed my coat and was heading out the door, calling the pediatrician's office just to let them know I was coming, when the nurse calmly told me to give him a tepid bath and check his temperature again.
"A bath?!" I wanted to shriek.  "Clearly my child is about to die.  He's red as a beet!  He's crying uncontrollably!  Something is seriously wrong!"
Cut to me two hours later, home from the pediatrician with an only-slightly cranky child, feverless, with no raging ear infection, no bulging tonsils, NOTHING to show for the panicked frenzy he'd thrown me into earlier.

In the month since John passed the Foreign Service Orals, we've spent a lot of time discussing possible scenarios for the future.  One option would be to have John do his unaccompanied tour first, meaning I'd stay in D.C. for a year while John "deployed."  At first, this seemed like a perfectly reasonable option.  I've been through two deployments, after all.  This would be a snap!  Then I remembered how miserable I am on the days when John doesn't come home before Jack's bedtime (which are few) and how much I love weekends because it means I get a break from Jack.  If John's gone for a year, I realized, that means there will be no breaks!  Ever!  What the heck was I thinking?!  Clearly, this unaccompanied tour is going to have to wait.
And then, because I'm a woman and therefore guaranteed to feel guilty about something at least once a day, I started to feel bad.  I have friends like the one I just mentioned who have it so much harder, women whose husbands are actually deployed and won't be coming home for R&R or calling every day.  Surely I can handle one piddly unaccompanied tour, right?

When Jack was about two months old, D.C. had the worst snowstorm in over one hundred years.  The bad news was that people were stuck in their homes (some without power) for over a week.  The good news was that John couldn't go to work, and we had an entire glorious week at home together!  During that week, I took ten minute showers.  I did my hair.  I threw on makeup, just for the heck of it (you'll notice that my personal grooming habits took the biggest hit after Jack was born).  And I started to realize, hey, this whole parenting thing is a hell of a lot easier with TWO people!  Imagine that!  After all, it takes two people to make the baby.  Surely this whole system was designed for two people to raise the baby!
Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense.  Someone has to watch the kids while Dad kills the Woolly Mammoth, right?  The trouble is, in today's world, we're lucky to even have our spouse around for support, let alone the proverbial village it supposedly takes to raise a child.  And when you do find yourself alone as a parent, it doesn't matter if it's for one week or for one year, if your partner is in a war zone or away on business.  Being a parent is hard work, and it's meant to be shared.  Four hands are a lot better than two - particularly when your squirmy toddler refuses to hold still for a diaper change.

Tonight, while John put Jack to bed and I made dinner, I realized yet again how lucky I am to not only have a supportive, loving husband who more than pulls his weight - but to have him home with me, safe and sound.  To all my fellow mommies, with husbands near and far, deployed or just out of town for a week, I'm constantly amazed by everything you do!  Feel free to vent to me any time - you've all earned it!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Terrible Twos - Already?!

It all started with the word "no."

In all fairness, I had been warned: avoid using the word "no" too often, friends said, or before long, your heretofore angelic toddler will be using it against you.  And in my defense, I heeded the warning.  I tried to use alternate phrases, such as "Please don't do that" or "Let's do this instead."  But when your 15-month-old is once again reaching for the DVD that you have replaced on the shelf for the thirtieth time that day, or worse, for something dangerous like an electric socket, say, sometimes the only word that really gets the point across is a good, solid NO (the only word appropriate for your toddler's delicate ears, anyway).
Apparently I used the word too frequently despite my valiant efforts, because a few weeks ago my dear, sweet, loving child responded to my "no" with an equally forceful "DOH!"  It was cute at first, I admit, especially since he couldn't pronounce the "n" and sounded like a very small, very angry Homer Simpson.  But soon enough Jack was saying "NO" loud and clear every time he heard me utter the word, even in conversation with John or when I was using it rhetorically.  I've since discovered that I say no a lot more than previously thought.

But I'm afraid "no" was just the beginning of what appears to be some sort of terror-inducing sneak-preview into the infamous Terrible Twos.

On Saturday Jack and I went to my friend's lovely Easter brunch while John ran his race (he placed 13th out of close to 350 runners, I should mention, shaving over an hour off his course PR - go John!).  While Daddy hoofed his way through 50 miles of mud, Jack was busy entertaining a party of ten or so adults and half a dozen small children.  I watched in horror as he brazenly plucked chunks of salsa off a stranger's plate, then climbed comfortably into Grandpa's lap like he owned the joint (this was some other child's grandpa).  Jack gesticulated forcefully while expounding on topics the rest of us could only guess at.  He stuck his eager little fingers into a deviled egg and a chicken salad sandwich before I could move them out of reach, and after he finished the numerous jam sandwiches, crackers, cheese squares, fruit chunks, and baked goods I fed him, he moved on to the plates of unwitting toddlers.  The other guests remarked on Jack's wonderfully outgoing personality.  I was mortified.

The next day, Jack discovered Buffy, the stuffed Cocker Spaniel I've had since I was six.  She lives on my nightstand, which was a safe enough place for her until Jack began exploring our bedroom.  I let him carry her around for a while, trying not to freak out when he dragged her across the living room by a crimped ear or shoved his sippy cup into her love-worn muzzle.  As expected, Jack grew bored of Buffy and left her in a corner, so I picked her up to take her back to her rightful place on the nightstand.  Jack immediately let out an ear-piercing shriek worthy of a bird of prey.  How dare I take Buffy away from him! he seemed to be saying.  I stared at him in stunned silence.  He hadn't even been holding her!

Yesterday was the last straw.  My friend had generously offered to host a play date and, excellent hostess that she is, had provided refreshments, including some tasty oatmeal raisin cookies.  My other friend's 11-month-old daughter was nibbling delicately on one of the cookies, and Jack, being my offspring, decided he must have the cookie immediately.  In an attempt to curb the behavior exhibited at the Easter party, I picked Jack up and moved him away, when out of nowhere he gnashed out like a baby Tasmanian Devil and bit my arm.  I was shocked.  Hey, I love a cookie as much as the next girl, but I can't recall ever resorting to physical violence for one.  Most of the time Jack is the sweetest baby ever, hugging my legs or sneaking into my lap for an impromptu cuddle.  But every now and then this forceful, demanding, precocious little boy shows up, and I'm starting to worry he's going to be an increasing presence in my life.  Surely it's too early for the Terrible Twos!  This is just a phase, right?
It's all fun and games until someone tries to take the cracker.

For now, we're working on the word "please" (pronounced "bees" if you're Jack) and I'm trying to ignore the screaming.  Of course, all of this is well and good if I'm in the privacy of my own home, but I fear that in public Jack is going to continue to get his way.  'Tis a far better thing to let your child have a cookie than let him bite you on the arm in front of your friends, no?
I mean "yes!"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Comfort Zone

Things have been pretty quiet around here this week, mostly due to the fact that John and I have the nasty cold Jack had last week (I sort of understand all the screaming and flailing now).  John was awake from some time around 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. until he finally gave up trying to sleep and went downstairs to get ready for his race.  This morning, while John slogs his way through 50 miles of mud, I was at an Easter brunch with Jack.  Seems sort of unfair, until I remind myself that he volunteered for this. 

On the writing front, the week started out rather abysmally, with two rejections early on.  But things ended on a much better note, with a request for a full on Thursday and a request for the first half of my manuscript from another agent on Friday.  Both of these agents required excerpts in the querying phase, so one agent had already read the first three chapters, and the other had read the first chapter and a complete synopsis.  For those of you who don't know anything about querying, it's basically a letter you send to a literary agent telling them what your novel is about and what writing experience you have, if any.  The reason querying takes so much time (I'd say an average of an hour per query letter, for me) is that you have to first find an agent who is taking on clients and looking for books in your genre (they may or may not have a website, blog, or twitter account, and it behooves a writer to check all of them, because each might contain helpful information about the agent in question), then tailor a query letter to their specifications (fortunately, most agents take e-queries now; it's very expensive, and time consuming, to send snail mail queries, and I have avoided it for this novel entirely), potentially including any of the following: the first chapter, the first five pages, the first ten pages, the first three chapters, a one page synopsis, a five page synopsis, a three page synopsis, and/or an author bio - any of which could be embedded in the email or attached as a .doc or .pdf, depending on the agent's preference.  So, when an agent has already seen some of your material and likes it enough to request more, that's a good sign.  I now have four agents looking at my manuscript, and I'm just praying one of them loves it enough to want to represent me!

Anyhow, the title of this post has to do with something that happened to me yesterday.  I was supposed to meet John for lunch at 12:30, so of course when I got into the Volvo at 12:10, the battery was dead (this is due to a glitch in our air conditioner/fan, which runs after the car is turned off - sometimes; John was supposed to get it fixed, but due to his ridiculously busy schedule, and the fact that he rarely drives, he hasn't done it yet).  I called John and told him I wouldn't be able to meet him for lunch.  "Can't you jump it?" he asked.
"Um, hell to the no," I responded sweetly.
It should be noted that I've never actually tried to jump start a car before, mainly because I'm afraid (and this fear is justified, given my incompetence with anything mechanical) that I'll kill myself. But clearly John doesn't share this same fear.
"But I invited all my coworkers.  They're waiting for us."
John, cunning creature that he is, went right for my Achilles heel: I'm much more inclined to blow off lunch with my husband than a group of people I barely know (John already knows what I'm like; there's still a chance for me to make a good impression on near-strangers).
Begrudgingly, I allowed John to walk me through the process, all the while cursing the rain and trying to keep Jack from losing his mind.  To John's credit, he did a crackerjack job of teaching me how to jump start a car over the phone.  And, within ten minutes, I was on my way to lunch.

I have to admit, jump starting a car really wasn't a big deal at all.  I had built it up in my mind to the point where I seriously thought I was going to electrocute myself.  But after I did it, I was kind of proud of myself.  It probably seems like a small thing to a lot of people, but we all have our limits of what we're comfortable with.  (My limits generally involve anything with moving parts or an electric current.)
The whole thing got me thinking about how the times in my life when I've really grown as a person have been the times I've been forced out of my comfort zone.
For example, during John's second deployment, when I lived by myself for the first time ever: I have always had a fear of being alone, but it wasn't until I actually did it that I realized it wasn't as scary as I thought.  I even learned to enjoy being alone sometimes (and these days, I'd kill for fifteen minutes of alone time!).
Or joining my mom's group and my book club: I've had social anxiety for as long as I can remember (side note: yes, you can be afraid of being alone AND have social anxiety; I blame it on the fact that I'm a triplet, and therefore never spent time alone as a child and rarely had to interact with strangers), and it's always been difficult for me to attend a group event with a bunch of people I've never met.  But I'm so glad I made myself do it, because I have met many of my best friends that way.
The Foreign Service will probably be the ultimate challenge for me.  There is a part of me that just wants to settle down in one place, have my group of friends and my own house, and not have to start over again (as we've done so many times already).  But everywhere we've lived I've met so many great people and tried so many new things, and I know that I would have missed out on all of that if I hadn't been forced to start over.

My biggest hope is that Jack will grow up knowing that he has no limits to what he can do or be, that he'll never be afraid to step out of his comfort zone and take risks.  To break out of his shell, if you will.

Fortunately, he's got a pretty good role model already, one who's currently up to his ankles in mud, somewhere around mile 45.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Run, Forrest, Run

(or Why Being Married to My Ultra Runner is Kind of Like Being Married to Forrest Gump)

I've been thinking about doing a post on the crazy world of ultra running for a while now.  After all, John's running is a big part of our lives, whether I like it or not.  But yesterday, when we received a newspaper clipping about an ultra race in California from my GRANDMA, I knew things had finally gotten out of control.

First off, I'd like to state for the record that I did not marry an ultra runner.  In fact, John barely ran at all when I met him, and by the time we were married three and a half years later, John hadn't even run a marathon.  Obviously I knew he was an athlete (he had been on the U.S. Cycling Team a year before we started dating), but he had given that up to go to college and become a fighter pilot.  I had no way of knowing what I was getting myself into...

Over the years, one thing has become painfully clear: John may have married me, but Running is his mistress.  Oh, it started out innocently enough, with the occasional late evening, dinner slowly going cold while I repeatedly checked the clock with growing anticipation.  But soon a pattern developed: John creeping into the house sheepishly, home late from work and reeking of her.  Before I knew it I was playing second fiddle to Running.  How could I compete with the allure of the open road, the wind in John's face, his feet gliding effortlessly over the asphalt?  Running offered an escape, a chance for John to clear his mind.  Running never nagged or made demands.  Running was, in a word, freedom.

I'm still not sure how the whole ultra running thing got started.  John ran his first marathon (a trail race; maybe that was the beginning of the end?) in the mountains east of San Diego.  I slept in the car on the side of the highway for a few hours until a cop scared the bejesus out of me by knocking on the window, only to tell me I wasn't allowed to be there.  When I joined the other spectators (all twenty of them) for the finish, I started to get nervous.  John had predicted a time under four hours.  But as of four hours, no one had finished the race.  Slowly, people started to trickle in, most with bloodied hands and knees, covered in dirt and scratches.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief when John finally came trotting towards the finish line.  Just as I stepped forward to cheer, an evil wasp decided to alight on my perfectly innocent elbow and sting me without cause or provocation.  So, while John came striding proudly across the finish line of his first marathon, I was jumping around and swearing like a sailor.  Surely that was a bad omen.

Over the years things only got worse.  Soon John was running several marathons a year.  Then he started throwing in the odd 50k, just to mix things up.  There was talk of a 50-miler or two.  And then, before I knew what had hit me, I was seventeen weeks pregnant and we were headed to Vermont for John's first 100 miler.  There, nestled in between the green mountains and pine trees, John found his people, a group of wiry men and women from all over the country who shared the same ambition: to run 100 miles.  Many seemed perfectly normal; looking at them, you'd never know they were capable of extreme feats of human endurance.
But amidst the bankers and home-makers, the real estate agents and retirees, there is a small sub-group of running maniacs.  These hippies, these mountain men and women who look like they've stepped straight out of the Seventies, have a penchant for bandannas and eschew technical running gear; they wear their long gray hair loose, free of the shackles of rubber bands or hats, their skin nut-brown from years in the sun.  These are the people who have been to the brink of insanity and are barely clinging to the ledge. This is what John could look like in twenty years.

Before John embarked on his crazy journey, I'd never heard of 100 mile races.  I didn't even know it was humanly possible to run that far!  But the sport is becoming more and more mainstream (hence the newspaper clipping from Grandma).  In fact, there are so many of these loonies out there that the biggest races employ a lottery system for entry.  That's right, there are TOO MANY people who want to run 100 miles.  And they pay up to $500 to do it!

Despite the madness, I had to admit that the race was inspiring.  Sure, I ended up staying awake for 24 hours, lugging my pregnant ass and John's food and gear from the car to the aid stations, driving through the mountains of Vermont with a hand-drawn map and John's brother as my navigational aids.  But I was part of a group of devoted friends and family members supporting "their runner" in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  It's not like I'd be doing this every year.
Oh, wait, silly me.  Apparently running 100 miles was not a lifetime goal for John, more like something to do before he turned 30.  Now that he'd done it once, why not do it again?  And hey, twice was great, but why stop there?  That's right.  My dear, crazy husband is currently in training for his third 100 miler in a row. 
So, you ask, how exactly is being married to John like being married to Forrest Gump?  For starters, they sport eerily similar haircuts, and both are married to incredibly attractive blonds.  But the connection doesn't end there.  John and Forrest are both ultra runners; yes, Forrest runs back and forth across the United States for fun (He just felt like running!) and John keeps his affliction - er, hobby - confined to races, but they both possess the same extreme focus and ability to mentally block out pain (does it bear mentioning that Forrest Gump has an IQ hovering somewhere in the seventies?).  No, John can't play expert-level ping-pong for hours on end, or captain a shrimp boat, but I have no doubt John could take a bullet in the ass for a friend. 

You see, it takes a special kind of person to be an ultra runner.  And I'm proud to be married to mine.
And that's all I have to say about that.