Tuesday, November 30, 2010

10 minutes to make this count

Last week was a week of squish followed by Thanksgiving and my brother's wedding. A whirlwind. I thought I might have been able to squeeze in some time for the blog once Amelia went to sleep some evening, but she is still on California time and then some, staying up past midnight every night, so both of us are going to sleep at the same time.

This week is a continued blur. I am working full time plus some with a major release coming up, we are still away from home (so my husband is off watching Amelia), and we are off to a Christmas party weekend in D.C. on Friday, so I will miss some crucial work time. It has been and is going to continue to be a whirlwind of activity from the  moment I wake up each morning until the moment I go to sleep.

Tonight I asked Padhraic to give Amelia her bath so I could squeeze in 10 minutes - and I am using those 10 minutes to make this blog count. Only problem is that life is so full, I don't have to time to process it.

That is the theme of this blog - the beauty of life that is in motion so much so that your mind becomes this thing of precision. I might not be able to remember some of the basic stuff right now, like my debit card or phone number, or whether the place where I live is on a street or an avenue, but I am able to focus intently to finish a project much faster than as per normal, reviewing with an intensity, level of detail, that is reserved for these moments.

I wanted to capture one thought in this blog, which I hope to talk about later in more detail. I got into this very cool conversation with my dad and aunt one night over a couple of glasses of wine. I was talking to my aunt about my experiment with running, textpad, and a few good ideas, and my dad mentioned this guy in Harvard who did an entire study on this very thing.

I need to get the name again and develop the blog more, but I have put it here as a placeholder - essentially there is more science to my madness. It has been proven, in theory at least, that the mind has the capacity to be its most creative during physical exercise when the focus is taken off the moment and onto the other-else of the body. I am counting life intensity in that category along with my runs. Dad, seeing that you are one of my followers now, can you please comment and say who the guy's name is, and quote the paper/talk if possible? Thanks.

10 minutes are nearly up and I need at least 2 minutes of editing. I promise, next week, I will be back properly, giving all I got. I didn't want to leave my imaginary audience hanging for too long.

Added in later:

The doctor's name is Herbert Benson. The concept is the 'breakout principle' (http://www.amazon.com/Breakout-Principle-Creativity-Performance-Productivity/dp/0743223977)

Timely enough, the New York Times published a piece covering a similar sentiment:


Saturday, November 20, 2010

An affirmation of self

Earlier tonight I went to bed confident that I would fall fast asleep after three lovely glasses of wine and an exhausting week. But then the topic for this week's blog finally came to me, and I felt compelled to get up and write it. It's been one of those tough weeks, exhausting, and I ended it with a conversation with my mom on the phone and felt better about it all, but for sure I have been shook, surrounded by sickness, sadness, and lack of clarity about the future.

I am not going to tell you about my week, as it would sound a lot better than it actually was, or else I would have to exaggerate, in which case I would feel a victim to my own hubris. Instead, I am going to make this blog an affirmation of self, a confidence booster in the truest essence of self. And I am going to do it through a story that came to me just when I laid my head on the pillow (and made me get out of bed to write this blog).

In the seventh grade, I had the biggest crush on Anthony (can't even remember his last name). Everyone had a crush on Anthony. He hadn't the slightest interest in me whatsoever, and really, we were a total mismatch based on size alone - he was at least a foot shorter and two stone lighter (for Americans, two stone is 28 pounds).

There was another guy, David, whom some girls liked before Anthony came along, and he and Anthony became friends, though I'd guess David was jealous deep down. This may be going off the topic of the story, but not the blog itself (being an affirmation of self). I believe that David was jealous of me too, as it pissed him off that a girl was better than him in maths and in general boy subjects all together. He was smart, but not as smart as me, and it wasn't just that I worked hard, I was genuinely smarter, and it killed him.

One day I got this love note from Anthony saying how much he liked me and how he wanted to meet me in the school yard and talk about going steady. I was so excited, and admittedly confused, but I still sided with my innocence and went along with it - I met him in the school yard at the precise time and place he dictated in the note. When I got there, I knew immediately it was all wrong - most everyone in the class was there, laughing as I approached. It was a joke - David arranged it, Anthony agreed, and all participated at my expense. I was gutted, sad, but I held my head high, walked away, and made no mention until five years later.

A couple of months after this incident, we had Kris Kindle (each person in the class gets a name and brings in a present for that person). At the front of the class on Kris Kindle day, there was this huge box, enormous, the size of a box that contain a double oven. The box was addressed to me. Everyone looked at the box, bewildered, wondering what was in it, and many people, including myself, suspected something like the last practical joke.

I was petrified to open it.

But it was my turn.

I went to Catholic school and you did things in turn whether you wanted to or not.

Inside the box was at least a hundred dollars worth of quality stationary. There was paper, notebooks, pens, glue, staplers, crayons, markers, an entire box full of the best stuff that money could buy, a generosity that cannot be described. And I turned to my Kris Kindle, Paul Becker, whose father owned the main stationary store that supplied our school and he smiled at me this smile that I cannot explain. It was genuine, it was conviction, it was belief in self and the choice that he had made.

Paul was beautiful, so handsome, but I never fancied him beyond friendship. I seemed to prefer the 'grey' even in those days.

The kids in the class were confused, very, as to why Paul, the second cutest boy in the class, would give me such a gift. I believed then that Paul was making a statement, that it was cruel what had happened earlier in the year, and that this was his opportunity to be the good person that he was, to stand up for me.

Fast forward five years, I am nearly 18, a junior in high school, and life is pretty challenging. My sister came home from college after her first semester, pregnant with my nephew, Dillon. We shared a room in our grandparents' house, and it was not easy for the three of us, me, Kristin, and Shim (we called Dillon that until he was born thus revealing his actual gender).

Far enough along in her pregnancy my sister decided it would be good for us to go out one night, to face our small-town world and all its judgment, so we headed off for this party, me, her, and the one friend who stood by her full-heartedly in this tricky time, Kim. I was feeling all her self consciousness and plenty of my own. It wasn't an easy night.

We got to this random party, and there was Paul Becker, still as handsome as ever with his girlfriend (I wish I could remember her name - I am pretty sure they married early on and hope they are still together). I was delighted to see him and meet his girl, and the three of us had a few beers and laughed about our days at St. Augustine's.

The night wore on, and we had developed an audience at the party. So I brought up the story of Anthony and David, the letter, and then the box of stationary, and how Paul was such a good guy. And he turned to his girlfriend and said to her that I would be the one to credit him for the act of kindness. He then proceeded to tell the room full of people a story, one that I did not remember, but has stuck with me ever since and keeps coming back in moments like the week that it has been.

Paul and I were in kindergarten together, and they had these weird development milestones. It seemed that if you missed one, you were flagged as having a problem. I know because I missed on two important milestones - I did not know where I lived or what my phone number was (we moved around a lot).

I don't remember this, but at some point I must have noticed that Paul was struggling to tie his shoes. There was this test one day for each of us to show how we could tie our shoes. The teachers undid all our laces and then we were to tie our shoes and they would come and see how we did. I found some way to sneak over to Paul and tie his shoes with no one noticing (he swore that I pulled it off).

Later in the day, during circle time, I whispered to him that I too had struggled to learn how to tie my shoes the normal way, so I made up my own way and I would show him in secret, so that the next time the teachers came around he could do it himself. And sure enough, my five-year-old way of tie-ing shoes made perfect sense to Paul. (Paul was born into a family of 13 - there wasn't the same kind of serious attention to things like shoe laces, but that did not mean that the family did not love and care for each other in the most important ways - this story being proof of that).

Returning to the now, this night, the writing of this blog from a very cold study on a wet November night in San Francisco, I am taking in a deep breath and feeling the essence of good people like Paul and I am grateful for this small affirmation of self.

I know in my heart that I have helped lots of people over the years 'learn to tie their shoes'.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


People who have known me a long time know that I have a tattoo on my left hip of an Einsteinium atom. I got the tattoo at that moment in my life when I decided that it was time to stop thinking about when I was going to become a physicist and recognize that I already was and had been for a long time a writer.

When you are a writer, no matter what you do in your day job, you are always going to be a writer. You cannot escape the stories that form in your head on a regular basis, the mad dreams, the people watching, the self-reflection and the constant recognition of analogy/pattern that comes with the writer's disposition.

I am drifting from the point of this article, not intentionally, but because I promised myself I would submit a blog once a week, and tonight is the night to finish the task. I am so tired from the life that is around me, I decided to allow myself to be less intense in my writing - to let it all flow in the day that it has been.

The title of this week's post comes from watching my daughter today in the Noe Valley Recreational Park. There is a spinner there that is in the shape of a large cone, and she spent the longest of times running in the opposite direction that the spinner was turning, laughing with amazement that she seemed to be in the same spot, right next to mama, even though she was running away-- her first (almost instinctual) recognition of relativity.

This morning Amelia woke up at 5:20 AM. I brought her into bed-- we snuggled, while she chuckled away to herself for a long while about Eoghan the cat whom we met last night in Aardvark's bookstore. She dozed off sometime around 6:30. The alarm went off at 7 - I had an early morning meeting with Dublin. So I got up, got coffee, got through my emails, only to find out that the meeting was canceled. My husband asked if I would quickly swap the morning run with the evening, and there I was with Amelia, watching her eating her oatmeal while practicing 'up' and 'down'.

My mom rang - 8 AM. No one who isn't in Dublin rings me at 8 AM. Last night my very close friend, more of a brother than a friend, was hospitalized, ICU. My mom is a hospice nurse and she was the one to make sure he got there safely. My friend's family are in New Jersey and they flew over this morning - my mom wanted me to talk to me about them coming to stay with us in the city, and not just for a couple of nights. This friend, this brother, cared for me deeply in the tougher times in my life - it isn't a question of helping him - it is the cyclical nature of life. He gave to me in my time of need; I will do the same for him in his.

Just after Amelia finished her breakfast, 8:15 AM (I just checked my email account), I got an email from another friend's husband - her father past away last night. I knew that it be that way because I called her for the first time in a few days and left her a message so she could hear my voice whatever time she got a chance to check her calls.

So I needed to get Amelia dressed, me dressed, and we started brushing our teeth together. It was the first time as a mom that I realized how that existence keeps me the most grounded I have ever been in times of crisis. I got through the day, focused mostly on work and Amelia's routine. It was only after she went to bed and I had a long talk with my mom about what is happening next (friend/brother is in hospital up north, ICU, and they haven't found the right spot for him down here in the city), that I remembered Amelia spinning in the park, and it sunk in, the relativity of life.

And in this moment, writing this blog, I see the 'revolution of grey', from a slightly different perspective. That most of our lives, we aren't consciously having to make difficult decisions. Most of the time we are barely processing the 'big picture'. Somewhere down the line, those ordinary moments that flow in a time-continuum are the ones that will bring us the clarity 'big decisions' often lack. And I am comforted as always by Albert, his crazy hair, and his perfect theory of relativity.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"i'd like to propose you also explore whatever may not be grey in you"

I have been a running since I was 13 years old. I started off jogging to the end of my block and back, in an attempt to lose baby fat and finally be on the outside what I felt in the inside. What I discovered at a young enough age is that running would always be about the event itself, and not so much the way it changed the shape of my body. The most challenging times of my life have often aligned with this strange inability to run properly, to catch my breath, to feel the power of my body - the mind taking over and rendering me powerless.

I have been running again, committed to at least three runs a week, and each one of them has been slow, tedious, marked by measured progress, but never that natural rhythm that I have felt before and have come to recognize as a barometer of my stress level subsiding, of challenges coming into check and good times potentially on the horizon. To get through my runs, I put on music and I think of a specific topic to focus on, hoping that these provide me with enough distraction to get through the run.

Today's 'running' topic was going to form this week's blog - I was going to explore those aspects of me that are not grey. Ten minutes into the run, Tom Petty's "American Girl" came on . . . the lyrics "And if she had to die tryin' She had one little promise she was gonna keep O yeah, all right Take it easy, baby Make it last all night" and those lyrics which I had heard so many times before took on a whole new meaning.

I have never been, but have always admired (and loved greatly) those people who are able to work very hard to achieve a goal, making mostly good decisions along the way and achieving with grace that which they have set out to do. More often than not, I approach opportunity from completely the wrong direction. And though I am earnest in making promises to be a better self, to do more in this world than is just enough, I often take on more than is humanly possible, thus making it impossible to be at the top of my game, or even worse, getting too invested in something that requires pragmatism, while other commitments fall by the wayside.

But there is this side of me that is unique, that I know isn't in those people who seem to always know the right direction to take and act on it - I am a true scientist in examining where my life experiments have gone wrong, what could have been done differently, and I am able to evaluate my life from an observational standpoint, letting go of any disappointment, guilt, etc., that might hang around a bit longer in the lives of people who tend not to make mistakes.

I am relentless, truly determined to get on the next horse that will take me to the next destination, knowing that it might not fit some imagined ideal, but it is still very important for me to keep going, to keep pushing forward, and exploring those opportunities that might not have been available to me had I not gone in the wrong direction in the first place.

This aspect of myself is what makes me able to keep going when most reasonable people would have stopped and waited it out for better circumstances. It is that essential part of self that has made my life incredibly full, way more than the average person, despite any setbacks along the way.

Over the last 4 years and in chronological order, I got married, sold an apartment, moved in with in-laws, helped husband through a tough time, changed roles in my career twice, started my MA, broke my foot, got pregnant, got sick (hospitalized for nearly four weeks), had my daughter, welcomed 12 Americans into my home over six-week period with newborn, finished my dissertation, traveled from Ireland to Australia for my friend's wedding, traveled to the US for Thanksgiving, went back to work (in Ireland), relocated family to San Francisco while still working as close to full time as possible until my daughter was in daycare, back into full-time work, started volunteer libary project, and experienced another major change in my career.

And even as I continue to head in the wrong direction on a regular basis, I know that I will look back in another 4-years-time feeling a sense of a life well lived.

Today, I felt that rhythm again, not the whole run, only small snippets, but it was natural, the body and the mind finally appreciating what the one brings to the other. These are my moments of clarity, not in the cerebral sense, but in the same way that Tom Petty's song makes me feel. I want to get up and dance, sing, and keep that one promise to myself, to make it last all night.