Monday, March 26, 2007

The Simple Life...(sans ditzy socialites)

Despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, it doesn't take much to make me happy. I had the most glorious weekend, even though nothing truly out of the ordinary happened.

The key ingredient to all this glory was the weather. Not to sound like a hypocondriac with a new disease to battle after every drug commercial, but I've long suspected that I might have a touch of winter depression. Something inside me dies a little when the sun starts sinking earlier and earlier. And don't get me started on the misery of being cold. But this weekend, temperatures were in the high 70s, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, birds singing, the whole nine yards. Nothing can be terribly wrong in the world on days like these.

I tend to count everything after the nights when I work both jobs as "almost the weekend," so Thursday when I attended the Luna film festival, I considered it the beginning of weekend entertainment even though I had to drag my ass into the office by 7:00 am the next day. Luna fest showed a collection of short films written and directed by women about women and women's issues. For some the thought of attending the previously described event might sound like a fate worse than death, but those of you who know me (or have read the blog at all) know that this sort of thing is what I live for. The film about one New Yorker's candid look at her battle with breast cancer 14 months after giving birth brought tears to my eyes. Aside from women's issues they covered, the films also inspired me to start thinking again about a film project I'd been contemplating and all but filed away under impossible.

Friday there was the little matter of working, but by 3:01, I was on the road home. For someone who lives alone, I still sometimes relish the deliciousness of an evening alone. I had to run a few errands, but then I came home, made myself a fabulous (and healthy) dinner, poured a glass of wine, and watched movies. All the while, the windows were open, fans blowing in a breeze that smelled distinctly like spring time. *insert sigh of happiness here*

Saturday was by far my favorite day. It started with a late morning trip to the Soulard farmer's market. I know it's open all year, but in the spring/summer months, the experience feels special. The pyramids of fruit, the earthy smell of vegetables, bright cut flowers...It's a beautiful sight. Then, I spent the afternoon engaged in one of my all time favorite warm weather activities, drinking margaritas on a patio with friends. Seriously, what is it about day drinking that's so much more fun than the same activity after dark? After dark was another matter entirely. J and I threw on some evening wear and took the salsa world by storm. It's easier than it looks, especially when your partner is an authentic latin man who knows how to move well enough for both of you. I highly recommend it.

Sunday's depress me just a little. Monday and Tuesday are my days from hell work-wise. There's very little to look forward to on a Sunday night. To remedy that, I met Mel and Tony for dinner. April was our bartender. I left a little fatter and a lot happier for the time I spent with them. And as I headed St. Louis-ward, the sun was still casting its last valiant rays over the lip of the horizon.

Life is good!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Following the Crowd

First things first--Happy St. Patrick's Day. Those of you who know me know that this is my most favorite holiday in the world (primarily due to the lack of family obligation attatched, secondarily the volume of drinking one gets to do... and oh yeah the being Irish). So, I hope you enjoy yours as much as I'v enjoyed mine thus far.

In celebration of my holiday and as a kind of motivation to work out, back in January I signed up to run the 5 mile St. Patrick's Day race in downtown St. Louis. I can't really think of anything less Irish...I can find no evidence that St. Patrick or anyone else was doing much running around the Emerald Isle. But what could be better than getting some exercise and burning a few calories before the festivities begin? I'm always one to try to take others down with me, so I convinced a friend to join me. And away we went.

The training didn't go so well. I printed off a training guide from the internet telling me how many miles to run on which days in the six weeks leading up to the race. But in the midwest, it's been bloody cold for the past couple of months, and after a few miles, there's something about a treadmill that makes me feel very much like a lab rat. Only I think good little lab rats get treats for their labors (there's an idea that could revolutionize gym-going, but that's another blog).

Race morning arrived, and I drug myself out of bed at 6:30 am, which to my knowledge has NEVER happened on a Saturday before (nor probably will since). It was painfully cold outside, and for a moment I considered going back upstairs and pretending that my alarm had never gone off. I could blame the cat for unplugging it. But I didn't. I headed downtown where there were HOARDS of people waiting to do this thing.

I safety-pinned my number to my electric blue fleece and danced around half in anticipation, and half because in the cold I could no longer feel my thighs. When the shot went off, it took a good two minutes before we could even start running because of the huge crowd. I nodded good luck to my friend, who runs MUCH faster and better than I do, strapped on my Nano and joined the fray.

There were hills that seemed like they'd never crest. There were unexpected potholes and runners who would rather run into you than around you. There were moments when I considered cutting out of line, walking over to the finish line a couple of blocks away and ordering a beer while I waited for my friends.

But the adrenaline of the crowd was contagious. At any given time, looking out in front and behind, there were thousands of heads (9,000 to be exact) bobbing up and down around me. I liked that I was solidly in the middle of the pack...I had nightmares about being the very last person to cross the finish line. There were people along the route, waiting for the parade, who cheered us on, and one little boy even ran out to give some of us high-fives. An old friend decked out in his kilt shouted out encouragment that there would be a drink in it for me at the end. There was a group of people around the four mile mark sitting in lawnchairs with signs that read "I finished already" and "I see slow people." Slow, my ass, I thought as I stepped it up a notch. Starting out, I told myself that it would be okay if I had to walk a couple of miles of it, seeing as I had never run more than three miles in preparation. But something kept one running shoe falling in front of the other. Somehow I just kept going, as if the crowd was pulling me along with them.

The race coordinators had politely stationed the finish line at the bottom of a small incline, and when I saw the banner a little ways off, I broke into a what I like to imagine was a true sprint. My finishing time was 61 minutes and 12 seconds. Not as fast as I would have liked, but not bad for a road race virgin.

Even though my right knee was swelling, screaming for ice, even though tomorrow I may not be able to get out of bed, I felt a little bit invincible just then. I ran twice as far as I thought I could, in a better time than I had imagined (the parade was NOT waiting on me so it could start). In short, I want to do that again! Not today or in the next week, but soon. There's a 5K before the St. Louis Marathon, if anyone is interested in joining me. My ultimate goal would be a 10K...Beyond that, I think I'll leave the half and full marathons to my girl J!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Somewhere in Middle America

I remember reading somewhere, back when I was young and impressionable, that writers often have "complicated relationships" with the places they grew up. I remembered thinking, "I don't think it's that complicated...I hate it here!"

"Here" was a tiny town, middle of a cornfield, Illinois, population 500. We had one no-name grocery store, one small cafe that closed before dinner time most nights, one gas station with two pumps, five churches, and zero stop lights. If you blinked driving through, you'd miss it. Unless you got pulled over by our one and only cop. Although if you'd driven through town before, you knew to look for the patrol car in his driveway at the outskirts of town. If it was there, no need to drive 30 on the way through.

Time stood still there. Mullets and pouffy bangs were, and still may be, the height of fashion. Kids played outside after dark in the summertime. People left for the weekend without locking their front doors. The movie theater (20 minutes away, mind you) took at least an extra week to get most new releases. Popular high school electives included shop, agriculture, and home economics, except for the parochial school I attended where there weren't any electives at all. Driving an hour to get to clothing stores better than Wal-Mart was a way of life. A happening Friday night included driving to the next town over and "cruising" a mutually designated set of blocks and finally parking in McDonald's parking lot to talk, flirt, whatever. Escape was imminent in my mind the whole time.

The thing I miss most, that I sometimes don't realize until I'm with them, is (some of) the people. I graduated with seven people (no, that's not a typo, seven people). And this weekend, four of us got together. There had been three years between the last time we had all been in the same room at the same time. It's always funny to see people who knew you way back when. When I think of us, I often remember us the way we were, little things, like how Amy painted her perfect fingernails in the school colors before big games, how Becky tore the crusts off her sandwiches at every lunch period, how as chem lab partners, Michelle and I narrowly escaped an explosion practically every week. I remember the parties, the little rebellions, the inside jokes. But in the intervening years, we had gone from main characters in the dramas of each other's lives to occasional guest stars.

But none of that mattered. I loved every minute of the few hours we spent together. It's true; we lead radically different lives, from where we live, to our career paths, our relationships, and even our values. But on another level, we are the same. We've turned out to be even better versions of the girls we've always been. It seems to me to be a rare thing for friends to be able to grow and change and still accept each other as they are now. There's something beautiful about the people who know your true past, not the revised version of history distorted by time and distance. And there's something even more amazing about friendships that transcend the past and continue into the present, when so many others don't.

We parted with heartfelt hugs and promises to meet again soon. And I honestly hope we do. They are the best thing about where I grew up. While I drove back to my life, back to the city that I still don't refer to as "home," I decided that coming of age isn't the day when you strike out on your own from the place that you grew up. It's the day you discover the road that leads you back and forth between the two places.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Something to look forward to?

I might be a tiny bit shallow. Or ageist. Or both.

I've never looked forward to aging, but I thought when the time came, I would do it with grace, naturally. Then again, maybe not.

I was in the locker room at the gym last night. Giving myself a mental pep talk for my impending workout, I turned from locker and got an eye full. I'm not one to try to put on a sports bra under my t-shirt in the locker room, but this woman was walking from the showers to her locker butt freakin' naked. She was old, and by old I don't mean 45, I mean like, old-old. And if that's what's waiting for me, I don't want any part of it.

We all know that gravity eventually gets the best of even the perkiest boobs. But the eye full I got was from behind, of a flat, saggy ass. I had no idea that the ass eventually deflates like a week-old mylar balloon. It made me sad. It made me cringe a little.

Then I felt guilty. What kind of feminist am I If I don't embrace the the beauty of real women, not just the manufacturered Hollywood version? I'm not saying that older women can't be attractive...with clothes on. And kudos to this woman for being at the gym, trying to stay healthy. But as I was pounding away on the treadmill, I couldn't help but wonder for what. Yes, I want to have a healthy heart, and low blood pressure, and strong bones and all that. But, I'll be honest (and here's where it gets shallow), I workout primarily because I aspire to look good. And if it's all going to go to hell despite my best efforts, what's the point???

Will there come a day when I don't want to look at my own body in the mirror? Will there come a day when I don't recognize myself anymore? On the other hand, do I want to spend decade after decade lifting, smoothing, and plumping in the quest to maintain? Would I be any less of an empowered woman if I did? Is it internalized expectations of feminine beauty or my own desire to be the best I can be (for me)?

I have no good answers and luckily quite a few more years to get a handle on it all. But I do wonder how other women feel about their bodies and aging. Talk to me...