February 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

I had to move my office to the second floor of the building where I work. It’s nearer the classrooms and nearer my colleagues in the English department.  Still, the office is smaller and the hallway busier than in my cave on the first floor.  They’ve offered me the chance to move before, but I’ve politely declined. “I bet you’re lonely down there,” they say, “ but I’m not. I’ve loved hiding away in my room since I was a little girl. There are famous stories about me slipping out of the chaos of family cleaning days to hide in my room with a book. This time, however, as space equals power in academia, I had no choice. The Vice President wanted my office for another department.

For the last twenty years, my new office belonged to a Sociology professor, Mr. Slappy, (true story—I did not make that name up) who just retired. Legend says the papers on the floor were knee deep. Everybody wants to see what the place really looks like now. I met Mr. Slappy once at a poetry reading, where he settled back on the couch cushions and drifted off with a smile on his face–the contagious bliss of fiancées and soon-to-be retirees.

The first time I saw Mr. Slappy’s office, I balked. You leave, well, a residue after that much time, even when your stuff is gone. Maybe especially when it’s gone. All that odor and dust now has nothing to rest on. “It took us three days to clean it, then it was painted, carpeted, and new ceiling panels were installed. You got a brand new office,” the facilities guy told me. A legally blind Psychology professor I had not met stopped by to say hello because I had “the clean smelling office.” Also, it is a good fifteen degrees warmer than the old place. Heat rises.

On the day I had to move my office, my sister, who converted to Judaism, marked the eleven-month anniversary of my mother’s death by hosting a breakfast  at her temple. For ritualistic reasons I don’t understand, sweets and alcohol were involved. They had sips of vodka with donuts. I am absolutely sure my mother helped with that menu. She loved a party. Maybe she pushed me upstairs, too.  She would have wanted to me be a little closer to the action, where I couldn’t slip away, where I had to notice everything that happened on the second floor.


Why in the hell would you run twenty-two miles?

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am slow, really I am. When I was a kid, my nickname was Myrtle the Turtle. I was dead last in the 50-yard dash for the Presidential fitness test in the sixth grade. Still, somehow, one morning just after spring break in college, I woke up strangely early, like nine o’clock, and decided I should go on a run.

I went back and forth with running until just after the birth of my first son, Cole. I was knee deep in diapers, and all I wanted to talk about was Cole, his bodily functions, and how that had affected my day. Jeff was tired of baby talk.

“You don’t have a passion for anything,” he said.

“I have a passion for our family,” I said.

“No, that doesn’t count,” he said.

“Ok, I have a passion for writing and for running,” I said.

“Runners run. Writers write,” Jeff said, “You’re not doing either.” I sat down on the couch to nurse Cole. I stewed. I fumed a little. Jeff was right, I finally decided. It’s a dangerous thing to give me something to prove.

I began running races and went back to writing stories. I went back to school for an MFA and joined a group of runners called the “Ain’t no shamers,” as in, “ain’t no shame in running a ten minute mile.” Around this time, I read an article in the local paper about a runner with a prosthetic leg. The headline read, “Runner Gives No Excuses.” I cut it out and stuck it to my wall.

When my dad died last year, I tried to run through it. I joined a gym, so I could run on the dreaded treadmill when the weather was bad. I ran, Forrest Gump style, for weeks, until my mother died. Then, I couldn’t run at all.

To run a long distance, you have to be ok with living in your head. It helps if you actually like that space. That is usually not a problem for me, unless what’s in my head is reality I don’t want to face. I tried to run, but found I was almost unconsciously making sounds—kind of moaning gasps. It is embarrassing when other people notice the sounds you make on the trail. You don’t want looks of concern. But, you have to breathe in order to run. Your body gets to be in charge. It turns out I was holding my breath in a lot of the time, taking shallow sips of air, so I wouldn’t let any emotion out.

I eased my way back into breathing, to running, over the summer. It is easier to breathe in Italy. Especially when you have nothing to do but cook, read, and run. I tried to keep up with Cole, who has joined the cross country and track teams at his school. He is the picture of discipline and, unlike his mother, speed.

I am training for a marathon now. My friend Kathy and I spend most Sunday mornings running through Duke forest, for two or three hours at a time. We talk, unless we are trying to pick up speed, climb a big hill, or get stuck in our own heads. I complain about how much I have to run to train for this thing, but I keep going, breathing in and out, quietly. I can run with what’s inside my head now. I can carry it way more than 26.2 miles, even if I do it at a turtle’s pace.

Where Am I?

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