Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Enough with the birthday pandering, already!

That word, pandering, is quite an interesting word, by the way. I didn't realize it had so much to do with pimping and sex...

Nevertheless, thanks for indulging the poet with your poetry. :)

So I chatted with my oldest brother for quite some time on my birthday. Seeing as though I'm a quasi-runner, turns out that we have lots to chat about now. When we were in high school, he was the tall and lanky record breaking distance runner of the family, and I was the short and squatty sprinter. But I always wanted to BE the distance runner...

Anyway, for the past few years, he has been training to compete in triathlons. He has the biking and running down - in fact, he makes the 17 mile ride to and from work several times a week, and then he runs for hour or so when he gets home; his other training days consist of him riding ten miles away to take swim lessons for an hour, and then he rides back home. He probably runs some more when he gets home too. Talk about crazy... We cook up quite a bit of crazy in our family, obviously.

He mentioned that I need to think of something "big" to conquer when I turn 40. Hey, wait a minute there bub. I'm just starting to enjoy 39. Besides, I've already run the 20 mile, the marathon, and the 50k races. And I'm not about to compete in a triathlon because, well, I would have to swim. Well, like, swim, swim. You know, something faster than what I can do with the old side stroke...

Coming soon: a random list of 38 accomplishments from the past year...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Haiku Me

thirty nine in bloom
on three twenty nine oh nine;
your best haiku, please.

share a memory
or admit how you know me,
all friends, old and new.

roast me or toast me,
sing me your birthday wishes
in 5-7-5.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just this side of
Just this side of
ever on the verge
yet never crossing over
never quite enough
running through, breaking past
on the fringe
on the cusp
unable to pierce the veil
tear down that which is invisible
yet cements
but not quite embodies.
stand exposed; lay yourself bare
fillet from top to bottom and hope
it will be enough
even though experience whispers something
while you stand
just this side of.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

emerald and fuschia rhythmically sway
arms reaching, delicate hands opening and twisting
a wave and a snap; ebony locks swirl,
low rumbles pound the back beat
while melodic vibrations saturate
the tapestry of sound.
bodies slide and snap; hands push
and pull, arms thrust,
beauty glides, barefooted.
Just a taste of Punjabi.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

Quarter grades are due this week. That would mean I'm reading. Papers. Student papers.

Oh, how I long to read a novel again...

Can't wait to cut loose the Albatross of paperwork from my neck and rid myself of the curse of grading. At least for one more week, that is.

Guess you will have to wait a few more days to hear about "Multi-cultural Night" and the fascinating diverse make-up of my school...such as the fact that 31% of English Language Learner (ELL) students in my school are Punjabi...

Monday, March 16, 2009

An ultra post for an ultra run

Warning: you are about to read the entire low down of my race experience. This post was written more for posterity than for the few morbidly curious souls that will actually read the entire post. Proceed with caution in reading my ramblings, interspersed with Switchfoot lyrics from The Beautiful Letdown album, as it practically took me as long to write this as it did to run the race.

“When I wake in the morning
I want to blow into pieces.
I want more than just okay, more than just okay.”

I was up before my alarm was supposed to go off at 6:00 AM. The familiar “zzzwwwrrrrr” of the grinder and the welcome smell of coffee let me know that Poetroad was already tooling around downstairs. Breakfast was waiting for me downstairs too. Gotta love that guy!

“When I'm up with the sunshine,
I want more than just a good time
I want more than just okay, more than just okay.”

D-man volunteered to be our chauffer for the day, and he and Irongirl picked me up at around 6:40 AM. We had just enough time to drive to the Cool fire station and pick up our race packets before the race began at 8:00 AM.

“When I'm up with the sunrise,
I want more than just the blue skies
I want more than just okay, more than just okay”

The sky split open with pinks and oranges as we headed East on I-80. I was glad for the beautiful distraction. And then we had to stop in Auburn to get gas at 7:30. I was a little worried that we wouldn’t get to the fire station in time before the check-in cut-off, which was at 7:45. But, lucky for us, D. sped through the hair-pin-turned, winding, eight-mile trek from Auburn to Cool like a maniac.

We made it with minutes to spare. What was I worried about?

The start of the race was fairly casual as the first section of the course was easy going. While we hit a few rocky downhill jaunts, the up-hills were tame. Even so, Irongirl and I parted ways at about mile 2 – at the very first hill. I’m sure I heard her bleating as she pulled away from me and eventually merged into the heard of runners in the distance.

“I'm not givin' up, givin' up now.
I'm not givin' up, not backing down.”

It was along this first stretch that I met Suzanne. We chit chatted about running and our experience with ultras. Of course I didn't have anything to say about that since this was my first ultra race. Suzanne talked about the experience of finding herself at mile 15 and realizing that she still had more than 15 miles to run. She said, "Instead, of thinking, 'I still have so far to go,' I learned to run in the here and now. When I feel overwhelmed with what lies ahead, I ask myself, 'Can I keep running now?' And the answer is always, 'Yes.'"

Great life advice, if you ask me.

Not long after our conversation, I passed the first aid station. Soon found myself several miles down the trail. Where the previous 10 miles had been easy going, this was where the real work began. I prepared to tackle my nemesis, the first “moderately” steep hill that summits at “Brown’s Bar,” by popping in the earphones and letting the musings of Switchfoot distract me.

“More than fine, more than bent on getting by.
More than fine, more than just okay.”

I knew Irongirl was powering up this ascent without stopping – just as she did in all of our training runs. However, I was content with my hike, run, run, hike strategy. I continued that strategy all the way to the first aid station on Auburn Lake Trails, too.

By the way, as advertised, a half of a mile before the aid station, the lead runners met the last 100 runners on this track of trail. Those five passed me on their way down. I wondered if I was really one of the last 100 runners in the race. I promised myself that I would be somewhere closer to the middle of the pack.

“Yesterday is a wrinkle on your forehead
Yesterday is a promise that you've broken
Don't close your eyes, don't close your eyes,”

Even before I began that four miles of winding, single-track trail ascent, I had already run out of water, so I was relieved finally arrive to the aid station. And I was starving. Who ever thought that red potatoes and chicken broth would taste so good in the middle of a run?

“This is your life.
And today is all you've got now.
And today is all you'll ever have.”

And then I began the next loop of the run. The first half of the loop went fairly fast; I found myself leapfrogging with a conga line of 10-15 runners. Somewhere along the way, we passed the infamous Barbara Schoener Memorial. Apparently, Barbara was training alone on this trail when she was “fatally injured by a mountain lion.” With that in mind, I tried to stay with my pack of runners so that I wouldn’t be singled out for “lunch.”

Over the course of the next mile, I passed four or five people as I flew down a twisting and turning descent. For few minutes, I ran alone, and then I realized that the runner behind me was talking to me. “We are almost there. Just about a quarter of a mile ahead, at the clearing, is the first of two hills. There it is. I see the sign. The hills are pretty steep. Just take it one step at a time.”

Was he channeling Dr. Misono, my sensei of running?

I rounded the corner, and at mile 20 I reached base of the dreaded “Ball Bearing” ascent.

“This is your life, is it everything that you dreamed
That it would be when the world was younger,
And you had everything to lose?”

They say that the “Ball Bearing” is only a .70 mile ascent. It was steep. It was rocky. I had to grab onto boulders and pull myself up through parts of the ascent. Like a trail of ants, the other runners steadily moved to the top of the hill. I moved like I just ate ant poison.

“Welcome to the planet
Welcome to existence
Everyone's here
Everyone's watching you now
Everybody waits for you now
What happens next?”

Then as one runner passed me on the way up, she asked – get this – “Are you a runner or are you just a hiker?”


“Um, yeah, I’m actually running the race,” I said as I showed her my number.

“Welcome to the fallout
Welcome to resistance
The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be”

And all of the other ants trickled on by me as I struggled through this personal hell. Silently, I cursed Irongirl for talking me into this whole race thing in the first place. I was no ultra runner. Real ultra runners know how to RUN hills. I am good at running downhill. Anyone can run downhill.

I summitted the beast, and then made my way to the next aid station.

“I dare you to move
I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor
I dare you to move
Like today never happened
Today never happened before”

Luckily, aid station number three welcomed me a few miles beyond the summit of Ball Bearing. Which was good because I had run out of water AGAIN. And I was starving AGAIN. And my hands were beginning to swell up – always my first clue that I am dehydrated. I needed to ingest some salt. This time I saw someone dip the red-potatoes into salt and then eat them. Brilliant!
And then I began the return run, retracing my steps that brought me there almost an hour before.

I was mostly alone on this four-mile stretch. There was one other guy – another virgin ultra runner – who leapfrogged me, but I could hear him talking about cramping, and his trainer/running partner suggested that they walk a bit.

“It was a beautiful letdown
When I crashed and burned
When I found myself alone, unknown and hurt.”

I was glad I ate the salt.

For another mile or so, another guy and I ran together. Then he had to stop and walk for a bit because his knee was hurting.

Now don’t get the idea that I was ONLY running on this stretch of rollers. I walked up every hill. Even the baby hills. I took every chance I could to rest. But in the back of my mind, I knew that this portion of the race was really downhill even though I was sometimes running uphill. I was trying to take advantage of my “strength” as much as possible.

Eventually, I crossed the little wooden bridge once again, but there wasn’t anyone there to tell me which way to turn. I knew was that I wasn’t supposed to run back the way I came. Also, I knew I was supposed to run up a hill named “Goat Hill.”

For ten long seconds, I stood alone in the middle of the forest and contemplated what to do next. I could hear runners in the distance drawing closer, and I seriously considered running back to them to get a second opinion regarding which way to go. While I saw the familiar pink caution tape blocking off where NOT to run, I wanted to read an actual sign that said, “Run up this hill, dummy.” Or, at the very least, I would have liked to read a sign that said, “This is Goat Hill.”

“In a world full of bitter pain
And bitter doubt
I was trying so hard to fit in,
Until I found out
I don't belong here
I don't belong here
I will carry a cross and a song where I don't belong.”

Then I noticed that there was a nearly inconspicuous serpentining trail carved into the red clay of a steep hill. I went up the hill.

“It was a beautiful letdown
When You found me here
And for once in a rare blue moon
I see everything clear”

On the way up, I saw another runner ahead of me, which confirmed that I was headed in the right direction. Now I knew that they said the Ball Bearing was the longest ascent, but this goat hill was almost as steep and it kept going and going and going up, up, up.

Did I mention that I suck at running up hills?

“I'll be a beautiful letdown
That's what I'll forever be
And though it may cost my soul
I'll sing for free.”

At the top of that ascent was the next aid station. This time I ate chips and refilled my bottle once again.

And then I kept on running. Knowing that only four more miles were between my and the finish line was almost invigorating. If only the rest of the trail were downhill from there on out. I even asked someone at the aid station, “Are there any more hills?” He replied reluctantly with, “Yes, but not like the one you just climbed. Still, there are a few more hills.”

“Twenty-four oceans, twenty-four skies,
Twenty-four failures in twenty-four tries.
Twenty-four finds me in twenty-fourth place,
With twenty-four dropouts at the end of the day.”

I ran the next stretch with two guys and two girls. I passed them on the downhills, and they passed me on the ups.

“Life is not what I thought it was
Twenty-four hours ago.
Still I'm singing Spirit take me up in arms with You.”

One benefit of not being time and space oriented is that I cannot conceptualize what a “mile” is or what “a half hour more of running” really means. One drawback of not being time and space oriented is that I cannot conceptualize what a “mile” is or what “a half hour more of running” really means.

“And I'm not who I thought I was
Twenty-four hours ago
Still I'm singing Spirit take me up in arms with You.”

I remember that I looked down at my watch and realized at one point that I only had two miles more to run. Those last two miles were the longest two miles I have ever run in my life. There was a part of me that said, “Hey, you’ve already covered a marathon worth of miles. Just walk the rest of the way.”

“Twenty-four reasons to admit that I'm wrong
With all my excuses still twenty-four strong.”

Still, I kept running.

“But see I'm not copping out
Not copping out
Not copping out
When You're raising the dead in me”

Finally, I crossed highway 49 again, stopped for a quick drink at the aid station, and then headed toward the finish line that was a mere 1.3 miles away. Of course you know that most of that was uphill.

“And You're raising these twenty-four voices
With twenty-four hearts
With all of my symphonies in twenty-four parts”

As I reached the top of the final hill, I saw the grove of ancient oaks in the distance. I knew the trail flattened out there. And I knew that soon I would be within eyesight of the finish line. Which meant I needed to run the last half mile because to walk that would be lame.

“But I want to be one today
Centered and true
I want to see miracles
To see the world change”

In the last steps, an older, wiser, more experienced runner began to overtake me. He said, “Let’s cross the finish line together.”

And so we did.

My time was 6:38. I took 325th place out of 450 runners. I was 88th in my age group out 144.

Don’t knock it. I wasn’t in the bottom 100 as I suspected I was. As a matter of fact, I finished an entire hour faster than I thought I would.

In addition, you’ll be glad to know that no 63 year olds were injured on my way to the finish line. I think she finished the race in 5 hours.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...

...is the big run, and I am feeling mighty anxious. It's my first ultra trail run (50k - which is 31 miles for those of you who live in the United States). What makes this run special is that it draws world class runners from all over the country. Apparently, it's the start of the ultra running season, and serious ultra runners are working towards a qualifying time for the Western States 100m.

Of course knowing that I'll be competing against *real* runners - people who know what they are doing out there - is ridiculous. And embarrassing. Oh, it will only be embarrassing when those people are sitting in their lawn chairs that will be lined up along the last mile of the trail so that they can cheer on people like me to the finish

....because I will be walking that last up-hill mile.

Luckily, I know for sure that there is at leas one 63-year-old woman signed up for this race. And I'll tell you straight up - I'm not afraid to knock her down just so I can pass her at the end of the race.

That is if I can catch up to her in that last mile...

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Tonight as I close my eyes,
forgetting what has transpired,
looking beyond the last frame
ignoring the creak and tremble
siren, rush, and electric hum,
releasing until unrestrained -
I will fling myself and tumble
head first into

Check out Dave King's thoughts at Pics and Poems in his post Kandinsky did it first...(and read the post he references too) in regard to Wassily Kandinsky. Actually, Kandinsky is really a catalyst for King's thoughts about creating with eyes shut tight.

Along that same vein, I've often found that I am feverishly creative in the last moments before I drift off to sleep or right before I become fully conscious just as I am waking up. Some of my favorite pieces have been scribbled on whatever scraps of paper I can find on my nightstand, in fact. Perhaps I need to tap into that more - to value the artist's vision more when I am seeing with my eyes shut tight.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Nigeria Q & A

"Do they have technology?"

"How do they view homosexuality?"

"What exactly is "female circumcision"?

These were the burning questions my students had for the special guest speaker who visited two of my classes earlier this week.

My dear friend - who happens to be Nigerian and a member of the same tribe highlighted in African novelist Chinua Achebe's book Things Fall Apart - generously agreed to work the visit into her hectic schedule. Since the majority of my students are reluctant readers, I thought that hearing first hand what it is to be Ibo and Nigerian would help draw them into the novel (as if Things Fall Apart couldn't do that on it's own, but the novel does lack a critical component practically required by many of the readers in my classes - and I quote - "lasers shooting out of heads, killing people").

I wish I were joking about that...

My students were immediately enraptured by my friend, "Chikosi." Who wouldn't be? Chi is beautiful inside and out, and her voice is strong and smooth and melodic. She sat tall on the stool at the front of my classroom, all smiles, and was crowned in tightly plated hair - a river of braids - tiny ropes - that fell to her lower back and were neatly secured between her shoulders in a bundle. She was dressed all in black, a combination of sheer and silky, leather and pleather - head to stiletto heeled boots - looking more like a fashion model than a lawyer/wife/mother of three. My students were mesmerized by every syllable from "hello".

More than that, she was smart and articulate and sincere; every question was answered honestly, completely. I learned so much about Nigerian culture that day - more than I've learned over the past few months in my study and research in order to prepare for teaching this novel.

Although, I confess, I was afraid to have her visit because my students have the potential to be kind of...naughty...and chatty...and disrespectful. Typical teens, you know.

But they were good! And they listened! And they were polite and asked questions!

Okay, they really did ask about circumcision, but Chi answered succinctly without hesitation.

Chi was great! And now my students know a little bit more about what Nigeria (a country) and Africa (a continent) really is, and they have encountered the reality of who an African woman is today.

Plus there was that brief, yet insightful, biology lesson...

Monday, March 02, 2009

"No Line on the Horizon"

Looks like I will be staying up late for the next week. U2's new album will be released on March, 3 in the United States, so in honor of the release, U2 is performing on Letterman every night this week!

Yeah, we don't HAVE TIVO.

Poetroad is seriously considering driving around tonight to see if he can buy the album at midnight. Right, he does know about this new crazy technology called "MP3s" that are downloadable right to his computer. But he wants to HOLD the disc in his hands. And perhaps hear the rush of gossamer wings and angelic voices singing "LAAAAAAAAAA" as he unwraps the jewel case.


When I woke up this morning, I knew immediately that I was ill. And in pain. And that this illness would require a doctor visit and antibiotics. Not a big deal - just a little urinary tract infection (which I realize will be TMI for some readers here, but I promise that there is a point in me telling you all this little detail...).

Someone in line casually asked me if my illness was going around.

"No." "As far as I know, urinary tract infections are not contagious," I wanted to add.

To be fair, I'm sure that person meant no ill will (most likely...). Nevertheless, the inquiry began a brief and awkward discussion of me telling the truth yet allowing the other person to believe something completely different.

Feeling embarrassed, I disengaged from the conversation as quickly as I could and instead became engrossed with hair driers - as if I were carefully studying each particular model with the scrutiny a scientist might study a Petri dish for positive signs of bacteria growth.

Eventually, I picked up my prescription and got the heck out of there.

Next time I find myself in that situation, I will be better prepared with my response. Here is the list so far of possible "reasons" [all fake, I assure you] for my future pharmacy visits:

1. Gonorrhea flare up.
2. Picking up husband's Viagra prescription.
3. Picking up MY Viagra prescription.
4. Bleeding hemorrhoids.
5. Picking up my methadone because, you know, I'm trying to shake that dirty heroin habit.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ah, Pierre, you shouldn't have...

No, really. No one wants to see a 70 year old man fold in half and touch his nose to his knees (and, he let me know, that he could have contorted himself more fantastically right there in front of the "Grind" coffee shop, but he wasn't wearing the right clothes to get the job done).

While I didn't hit the trails yesterday, I did wake up early and run around suburbia in order to get in my daily run. In the last leg of the run, I took an extended break at the Grind - the local coffee dive - and met with my "girz" for our once a month chat 'n pray.

Afterward, I took a few minutes to stretch before running the last two miles of my run. That is when I met Pierre. He looked like this younger version of Jack Lalanne. (When I say young, I mean the "70 years young" look.)

Speaking in a lovely accent, French I suppose, Pierre told me that he was an accomplished yogi. When he was younger and living in Monterrey, he sudied two and three times a week from an infamous yogi.

"Oh, so can you wrap your leg behind your head?"

"No, not in these clothes. But if I had on the proper attire..."

I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't get to see the entire show, but that thought dissolved as Pierre pulled in close.

"I am a psychologist. Where do you live?"

"I live in this area - a few miles from here."

Pierre came in closer. He paused to read the caption on my sweatshirt. I explained it was from a church camp.

"Church, too? Well, you are the compete package, then. You and I would have been perfect together. A perfect match."

As we chatted about this and that, I tried not to be distracted by the neatly trimmed forest of ear and nose hair that encroached proper ear and nose boundaries.

"And no children, I suppose?"

"Actually, I have four daughters."

"Well, then, that is something else we have in common! I also have four daughters. The youngest, she is 23 and a UC Davis graduate."

"Wow! That's wonderful. You must be very proud. Do your daughters live close?"


His pause was pregnant with regret. I wondered about his past - a life lived half a century ago - that included yogi study and psychology and the Monterrey coast.

"Well, my children do not live close. My children, they are divorced, I am very sad to say, and living here and there. But who am I to judge as I also am divorced. You understand, as I assume you are also divorced."

"But I'm not divorced. I'm married; I just don't wear my ring when I am running because my hands swell when I run."

"You tease a man, so, and give him false hopes! You are married!"

We laughed uncomfortably.

"I'll let you run home now. And I promise I will not run after you."

I didn't look back to see if he was following me.