Sunday, March 8, 2015

Birthday memorial run

Yesterday was my dead sister's birthday.

I used to set out food for her each year, since she died of complications of an eating disorder and I figured that her ghost must be hungry, but a few years ago I began running instead.

My sister, Cathie, and her dog Barney.

This year I'm in Tucson, the last place that we lived in the same city together, years and years ago, and I'm also finishing up a memoir about her life, and mine, and the ways in which her stuff fed my stuff and my stuff fed her stuff.

I thought I'd wake up sad on her birth memorial day. Yet I didn't. I work up energized and alert. I felt unexpectedly happy all day. I cleaned the house. I wrote. Mid-afternoon, I picked up a rental car and drove out to Sabino Canyon for a run.

I ran up the Phoneline Trail, which is one of my favorites and includes a grueling and rocky incline for the first couple of miles, and then the path runs alongside of the mountain ridge. The views are amazing, and since I had already gotten in my miles for the week, I took it slow. I savored.

And I felt so happy the whole time the I couldn't stop smiling. I talked to my sister, too, and maybe it was my imagination or maybe I was able to pick up on tiny leftover bits of her energy, but it's as if I could feel her there beside me and it all came back, all of those years we used to run through the pastures out on the farm. We were always together back then. We were inseparable.

I ran until sunset, when the light reflected off the canyon walls turned the most marvelous reddish tint. I can't remember when I've felt so alive, so free and happy. I stopped a couple of times and just wept from happiness. And it doesn't make sense and yet it makes all of the sense in the world, how I could feel so happy and alive on my dead sister's birthday.

I miscalculated the time and the last half mile off the mountain was in the near darkness. I didn't turn on my headlamp, though. I liked the idea of stumbling my way through the dark. It seemed an adequate metaphor.

By the time I hit the paved trail, it was pitch dark and raining. The rain came suddenly, like a gift, and the wind picked up and the tree branches swirled and danced. The last half mile is over a sandy path and as I ran I could smell the sharp, oily scent off the chaparral shrubs, and I slowed down, breathed deep. There was something almost mystical about running alone through the dark on a sandy path as rain beat down upon my head and the air smelled fresh and new and wild.

When I pulled up in the driveway of the house I'm renting, an 80s song was playing on the radio. I sat there, all sweaty and tired, and I felt so happy that I began to laugh and cry at the same time, and soon I was crying, sobbing the type of unabashed tears that come from deep, deep inside. It's not that I was particularly sad but only that on the other side of happiness always, always lies grief.

 What I'm reading: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  by Jeanette Winterson. A wonderful, beautifully written memoir of a woman growing up in an odd and destructive household.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Hello, hello, I'm back

Yes, I'm resurrecting my blog from the dead. It's been a bit, no? And there's so much to catch up.

And the big news: I'm running again.

Well, I never really quit but I slacked. I slacked big-time. I got stuck in a ridiculously demanding job and, when people around me quit and I found myself the only one on the payroll for that particular publication, I knew that my days were numbered.

Still, I buckled down. I pulled all-nighters. I worked seven days a week. I had no time to run,or at least run far, and no time to write, or at least write intently.

Basically, for over a year, I had no life.

Sunset across the inlet sometime in December, when I still had no life.

It's a wonder that MM didn't pack my bags and boot me out the door because trust me on this: I was not in a good way for a good part of the time.

Finally, I had a bit of a breakdown, started to cry and couldn't stop. My teeth chattered and my body shook and I realized that if I didn't start taking care of myself, I was going to wind up sick.So I put in my notice, and as soon as I did, it was as if a weight had been lifted. I began sleeping better, and eating better, and running more seriously. Like over 20 miles a week. Like double digits again.

Then my dog died. This wasn't unexpected, since she was almost 15 years-old. But still, how can one ever anticipate the death of one's dog? I still can't believe that she's gone, that she won't be waiting for me to wake up and pet her each morning, that she won't follow me downstairs to my writing room and sleep by my chair each evening. How can she be gone?

Still, it was a good death, or as good as a death can be. We made sure of that; we insisted on that because for all of the many things she was and the many things she brought to our lives, Beebs was always, always, always a good dog, the best of dogs, a dog of all dogs, at least in our minds, and in my life.

Oh, Beebs, oh honey-there will never, ever be a dog like you.
After that, I couldn't stick around the house, not in the middle of the winter, not without a job to occupy my time. How could I stick around the house without the Beebs?

So I sublet a house in Tucson and headed down for six weeks of sunshine, writing and good runs in the mountains. Mostly, though, this has been a time of healing, a time of taking it easy and reading and sitting in the sun and daydreaming and riding the bike along the washes and eating good food and writing half the night. And did I mention running in the mountains and desert trails?

All week I stay in the rental house and read in the sun, ride the bike, swim at Reid Park and run around the local parks, streets and paved bike paths along the dried river washes. On weekends, I reward myself with a rental car and escape to Sabino Canyon or Catalina State Park for wonderfully grueling trail runs with a lot of incline, a lot of rough footing and a lot of sweat.

Running in the desert is so different than running in Alaska. For one thing, I need to drink water, and a lot of it. Another thing is I have to make sure I always carry a headlamp because when it gets dark, it gets dark fast, not like Alaska where even in the winter the twilight stretches out for a good hour before darkness descends. Here, the sun sets and then, wham!, it's dark.

Sun starting to set in Sabino Canyon, though I'm still a few miles from the trailhead, hee, hee.

Yesterday, during my long run, I saw a coyote running through the dried river wash and almost wondered if it were Beebs' spirit greeting me. It ran through the sand, neck stretched out, moving with a stride so wild and free that something inside of me longed to jump the fence and run behind it. I didn't, of course. Still, it's nice to feel a bit of wildness in the city. It reminded me of Anchorage, of home.

Last week's stats:
Monday: Rest day (lots 'o biking)
Tuesday: 11 miles
Wednesday: 5 miles
Thursday: Rest day (more biking)
Friday: 5.5 miles, trail, lots of incline
Saturday: 6.5 miles, trails, rough footing and oh my, the inclines!
Sunday: 6.5 miles, trails, more tough incline
Total: 34.5 miles

What I'm reading:
OMG, such a good book, and I highly recommend: Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton. The winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, this memoir is so dreamy and lyrical, so honest and quirky that reading feels buoyant, like swimming underwater,