Thursday, January 27, 2011

Views from Provo Canyon

The word "blog" just sounds messy, doesn't it?--lumpy, unfocused, apt to lose the point and head off in a different it's the word's fault that this post is going to be a bit tangential to RLAG-ing.

Got back yesterday from the Sundance Film Festival, where I was reminded of what one of the possible permutations of a perfect day is for me. The day starts with a cross-country ski high up in Provo Canyon, on trails which cross avalanche run-off and eventually make me feel like a bird, soaring in the canyon cleft above the trees, the sun baking me on the uphills, but not yet strong enough to ease the sharp chill of the downhills.

Then, once my body has had its chance to work up a sweat, it's my mind's turn to work, with three movies in a row at the Sundance Screening Room (we like the quiet part of the festival and stay away from Park City), followed much later by a dinner of deliciousness at the Tree Room and an opportunity to dissect and discuss.

And so...what I saw, in order of preference:

Happy, Happy, a Norwegian film, which some of you probably already know is one of my favourite filmmaking countries (along with Finland and Iceland, of course!). A very dark sex comedy plus drama, in the classic Scandinavian model of somewhat depressing circumstances (and snow, naturally) shaded by a strong will to find the happiness that's possible and accept the strangeness of the world.

On the Ice, a first feature by a Native Alaskan director, set in the bleak, yet stunning landscape of Barrow, Alaska (more snow), where two childhood friends, now on the cusp of adulthood, test the limits of their loyalty to each other when they are involved in a gruesome accident on a seal hunt.

little birds, a first feature from a former Boston gang member, two girls coming of age in a nowhere, poverty-stricken town on the edge of the Salton Sea; one struggling to escape her childhood and the claustrophobic future which seems to be bearing down on her, while her friend seems to cling more to the naivete of girlhood, though (somewhat predictably) it is her who sees more clearly how brutal the loss of innocence will be for them.

The Salesman (Le Vendeur), a Quebecois film, set in a snowy landscape (yes, more of the white stuff, it was a bit of a theme) north of Montreal, where a pulp and paper mill is shutting down and a car salesman keeps on keeping on, even as the pervasive mood of tragedy gets more personal. A beautiful meditation on what it is to be happy, or even just to survive.

Lost Kisses, a mess of an Italian film, in which the heroine tells people that a statue of Madonna has spoken to her and the resulting miracle mayhem.

Page One, a documentary ostensibly about a year inside the life of the New York Times, as a structure to explore the constant obituaries being written about print media, and the importance of in-depth analysis in media. Yes, I agree, real research and analysis is sorely lacking from a lot of the "instant" or "online" media, which threatens to replace venerable old institutions like the print newspaper. Yet, the movie categorically fails to address the fact that print is being replaced, whether or not the smart, but hoary, chain smoking, unhealthy and rumpled newspapermen portrayed like it or not; oh...and yes... I do mean "men," because women were largely absent from the film. So the real question, in my mind, is how not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater--the baby here being intellectual rigour, deep research and thoughtful analysis; and the bathwater being dead trees turned into paper on which we print the resulting articles. In case you didn't guess, I found the movie somewhat smug and ostrich-y--this from a girl who is very happy to have a real old-fashioned book coming out soon and still uses pencil on paper to mark up manuscripts.

In short, and in case it wasn't obvious--the first four are well worth seeing (if the stories sound appealing and you can find them!) and the last two can be skipped without regrets.

If you've read this far, and indulged my movieholic-ism, I will say that the next blog post, coming very soon, is back square in the middle of the spirit of running like a girl--an interview with Nicole DeBoom, the founder of Skirt Sports.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Moving Toward Discomfort

At my favourite Yin Yoga class tonight at Tahoe Yoga, Walter (the owner of the studio, a chiropractor, and teacher extraordinaire), talked about noticing our reaction to the discomfort we feel when holding yoga poses for the long periods of time that are signature Yin (anywhere from 3-5 minutes, during which time pigeon pose takes on a whole new complexion). More than noticing, is exploring that reaction while we're in the pose. Do I want to run away? Do I fidget? Do I tune out--as in my case, where I'll realize my pose got sloppy and I was thinking about what to wear next month when I'm in Denver for a book event? And most importantly, what information does this give me about how I react to discomfort in the rest of my life?

Dis-comfort, to be not comfortable, un-comforted--sounds like something to avoid. Yes. Well, actually no. We can't. So better to meet it, than dodge it. Because dodging it is really just an exercise in exacerbation, not a solution.

Long ago I took a self-defence class, not much stuck with me, except this--if someone tries to snatch your bag, hang on tight, but don't try to resist the snatcher, instead, move in the same direction. Not a natural reaction, but efficacious in many instances. In most cases, the culprit will be so flummoxed by your surprising reaction that they will loosen their grip on your bag. Presto, the bag is in your control again.

Discomfort is a purse snatcher. Lean into it and you might just be surprised to feel that discomfort loosen its grip.

Still dubious. Think about your workouts. Not so comfortable all the time, right? (And I'm talking here about the discomfort of challenge, not of injury) But then, one day, all that discomfort comes together into a day of sublime ease and you wonder if your shoes, or bike, or boat or swimsuit have a hidden motor you weren't aware of. What felt hard yesterday, feels great today.

Moving toward discomfort is moving away, in sports as it is in life.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Living Lightly

I am not a monogamist. So while I'm passionate about running, I also adore xc skiing, not to mention hiking and any number of other things that get me outdoors. And then there's the non-athletic things I love, movies, for example.

The other night we went down to Nevada City (in CA, not Nevada!) to the Wild & Scenic Film Festival and saw two fantastic environmental activism films. One, Truck Farm, was about a creative guy in Brooklyn who decided to grow veggies and herbs in the bed of his pick up truck. Along the way he visits roof "farms", window "farms" and other farms in New York city, as he thinks about how we might feed ourselves in a more sustainable, less impactful fashion. The second, Bag It, looks at the deleterious (extremely!) impact of plastic on our lives, the lives of the animals we share this world with and our planet. Suffice to say that one particularly wrenching scene showed a scientist going through the contents of a dead albatross's stomach, which contained--no joke--10 (yes, 10) plastic bottle caps.

So what does this have to do with running like a girl? RLAG is to live the best lives we can, which is going to get pretty hard if we don't take care of where we are living (not to mention we want our beautiful places to run and cycle and hike and swim and climb and and). RLAG is also understanding that we are the authors of our own happiness, which includes our health and therefore see where I'm going with this...the health of this amazing blue ball we call home. So here's one small action we might all undertake--as athletes we drink more than our share of water (and sports drinks), let's try to make as much of that consumption from our own bottles, and not single use, disposable bottles.

Run like a girl. Live lightly.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Being Reminded

Waking early this morning, I watched dawn break. First in her fierce red glow, blossoming behind the mountains, like an ink stain spreading, then diffusing into paler pink and purple streaks; until finally day arrived, grey-blue at first, the sky clear but for the insubstantial threads of clouds above the peaks, still one-dimensional in the flat morning light. Below the valley was obscured by a softly rolling ocean of mist. Then the sun shone, now fully risen and the world turned on in all its three dimensions, shadow and light.

I went cross-country skiing, up to my favourite high spot, which overlooks Donner Lake. But the lake was hidden beneath the mist and I was high up in the sunshine, like a plane flying above the clouds. I was alone with the hills and trees and snow, the only sound my skis on the cold snow, scrape-y from yesterday’s rain, and my ragged-y breathing.

This is what “it’s” for, I thought.

It—meaning—skiing, and by extension, working out, being healthy, being in shape. What a privilege. A good reminder, too.

Because I’ve been a tiny bit sad this cross-country ski season, missing my best ski friend, who just had knee surgery. I’ve even felt sorry for myself at times (I know, I know, you don’t need to tell me that’s lame)—until I remember that I’m skiing and she is at home with her leg in a passive motion machine, working on healing.

I wish I could bottle the morning and bring it to Kristen, so we could drink it in together.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Running and Writing

And now…part two—as promised—on running for writers.

Used to be that writers were classically thought of as paler still than bookworms, possibly undernourished, definitely pickled by years of alcohol abuse and generally not the sort of physical specimens one envied. If that was ever true, it’s not now. As Murakami pointed out so aptly in his book, writing takes stamina, so why not run (or do some other sport) to build that stamina? Not to mention (as he does, too) that the discipline and stick-to-it-ness demanded of sports is essentially the same as what writing asks.

Same question as yesterday—how to start?

Lace up your shoes. Open the door. Take a deep breath. Starting is the hardest part of any run, of any workout (not to mention of writing a book). Once we’re started the inertia of continuing the activity in which we’re engaged takes over, but getting out there—why? Do I have to?

Nope. But why not try it a few times and see how it feels. Like trying on different perspectives, or what we call “points of view” or POV’s in writing (for example, first person, or third person), why not try out a different perspective on life, a new vantage point. After all, that’s what writers are good at. Think of getting out there as the real life equivalent of inhabiting a character’s personality. Say to yourself, “I am a person who…runs, cycles, does yoga, zumbas, swims, walks etc…” and then try the activity on for size.

In writing it’s important to let go of your thinking, thinking, thinking mind, that conscious part of yourself, which is, let’s face it, a bit of a know-it-all, always saying things like, “I’m the kind of person who…” or “That’s not my kind of thing,” that’s not necessarily knowing yourself, you might just be stuck in a rut.

Instead think in broader terms, such as, “I am (or want to be) healthy and happy.” Yes, I suppose I did just open the door to the age-old debate of whether writers (or any creatives) need to be depressed and unstable to truly access their artistic nature. So let me shut that door right away, because I don’t believe it for a minute. Being healthy and happy, in the face of what life throws at us, is hard work. We all have enough challenges and setbacks to fill the pages of multi-volumes, without expressly prolonging our suffering.

Go ahead. Think of it as a writing exercise. And in the process, you’ll learn something about yourself. Better still, your mind will be free to do what it wants, fill up with fleeting ideas, empty, fill up again.

Just like writing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Writing and Running

I’ve been (belatedly, if that’s possible with reading and books) reading Haruki Murakami’s, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I should say that he is (by my lights) a very serious runner, a fact I only point out because it’s often not the case when fiction writers write about running.

His second chapter is titled, Tips On Becoming a Running Novelist. Hey, I thought to myself, that’s me. The essay is a lovely meditation on the similarities between writing and running, the work of it, the gift of it, the joy of it, the solitariness and so on. My partner was reading over my shoulder as I started the chapter and he asked, “So is the chapter about how to write if you’re a runner? Or how to run if you’re a writer?”

Good question.

Well, it was really about neither, but his question was thought provoking and I thought I’d undertake, in this and my next post, to look at both sides of the coin, both questions he posed.

So, to the first—on writing for runners.

It seems like many (possibly most) people I talk to have a “story” inside of them they want to tell.

How to start?

The same way you start running, actually; that is, one foot in front of the other, or in the case of writing that would be one word after another. When you first start running, it doesn’t have to make sense. In fact, if you aren’t the type to sign up for races and set goals, but would rather just enjoy running for what it is, then it may never “make sense,” at least not sense in the way people think things automatically do if there’s an end in mind. Happiness, of course, is an “end,” and a sensible reason to do something, we just haven’t counted it as such, though that’s changing.

Writing is the same. It’s best to start without an end in mind, without a sensible reason (i.e. I’m writing a novel or a memoir or…). And then see where your mind takes you. In fact, think about your mind when you’re running alone (which is how you’ll be when you’re writing)—your mind is roaming around freely. You might set it the task of solving some problem, but likely it will take off on a tangent. Write like that! Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and just start, no editing, no erasing, no stopping and pondering.

Just like running.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Own Success Or Else...

Check out this great TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg (of Facebook).

One of the many great points she makes is that when men are asked about their success, they generally attribute it to themselves, as in, "Yes, it's true, I'm great." Women, on the other hand, are more apt to attribute their success to luck (huh?) or to help they received from others or others with whom they collaborated. In other words, women are saying, "Yes, but..." about their success.

I'm all for collaboration. In fact, I think it's something we need a lot more of in the world. And I certainly think that giving credit to others where credit is due is vital. Yes, but--as women are prone to say, and so I'll say it, too--we also need to learn to take credit. Sharing success around is a different thing from disowning the success itself. The latter is what women have too much of a tendency toward. Because it turns out that when we own our success, we actually have more; and when we don't take ownership of our success, when we are too busy giving the success away, then we risk bankrupting ourselves along the way. (Success is not like that old singsong about love--something if you give it away you end up having more, and so on.) Succeed. Embrace that success. Succeed more. That's the upward spiral cycle we want to hitch our star to.

Sports is a good place to practice, because when you run that PR, or cycle up that mountain, or ski down it, for that matter, there's no one else you can attribute that success to, really. Yes, coaches help and so on, but in the end, it's you who did it. The truth is inescapable--you'll just have to think to yourself at some point, "I am fabulous."

Try it some time!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An Upcoming Event in Denver

For anyone who might be in the Denver area on Thursday, February 24th, come by Outdoor Divas, a fantastic women-only outdoor store.