Thursday, April 22, 2010

Grub Tale: Becky Tuch

Becky Tuch’s first novel, Cindy, Wendy and DANGER: A Novel of Mystery and Excitement!!! was completed in the fourth grade. Since then, she has been writing fiction and practicing using fewer exclamation points. Her stories have won awards from Briar Cliff Review, Byline Magazine, The Tennessee Writers Alliance, and received Honorable Mentions from the Pushcart Prize and Writers' Journal. Other stories, poetry and reviews have been published in Folio, Eclipse, Blueline, Artsmedia, The Women's Review of Books and elsewhere. Additionally, she is the founding editor of The Review Review, a website that reviews literary magazines.

RUN FOR GRUB: How did you learn about Grub Street?
I learned about Grub from a poet I dated when I first moved to Boston. He was looking for teaching jobs and so took me to a Grub Street party so he could network. I remembered there was this giant sink in the hallway and I thought, "this place is cool!" He ended up teaching at a university, but oddly enough, now it's five years later and I'm the one who teaches at Grub Streetnovel and short story workshops to adults and teenagers.

Also, I'd like to add that at the time, I was taking fiction workshops at the Cambridge Center for Adult Ed. I'd taken about two years worth of classes, and then I got to a point where I knew I wanted to take my writing to a more serious level, but I did not want to pay MFA prices. Grub Street was heard of at that time, but not everyone had caught on to how amazing it was just yet. One night, in class, I told everyone that I wasn't going to come back for the next term.

"Why not?" they asked. This group and I had been in a short story workshop together for over a year by then.

"I'm going to take a class at Grub Street," I said.

There was an audible hush.

Evidently, I had made a statement.

Telling your peers in an adult ed class that you're going to start taking classes at Grub was, I learned, like telling a bunch of body-builders that you're done with working out in the basement with your grandpa's old barbells. You are actually going to join a gym, maybe even get a personal trainer.

"My writing," I was saying. "Is important."

I took my first Grub class the following term and have been taking classes there ever since.The really great thing is that since that time, almost all the people I knew in those Adult Ed classes have reunited with me in Grub workshops or seminars or conferences. We just wink at each other's biceps.

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?
So, yesterday, at around noon, I got a phone call from one of my favorite Grub Street instructors. "I just wanted to call and check in with you about your novel. You mentioned you were having trouble with the ending?"

She is an instructor in this master novel class I'm taking, so it's not like she just read about my ranting on Facebook and decided to call and check in. We'd actually scheduled this time to chat. But still. No one is forcing her to do these phone conferences. She just decided that it would make the class better if she called us.

Who does that? Where in the world
apart from academiado people make those kinds of phone calls?

She and I talked for an hour, about art and literature and our mothers and, of course, our novels. Interestingly, the most helpful thing about the call was not that she told me how to end the book, or how to tweak my characters, but that she made the call at all. She had it on her list of things to do, probably right up there with buying food, cleaning her apartment, going to the bank, organizing her tax forms. Right in the midst of all this mundane life work that we all have to struggle to finish on a daily basis, she had the item
"Call Becky re: novel," or something like that. And that's what Grub Street has given me over the past five or so years. It's given me the incredible sense that writing a novel or short stories or poetry, and teaching writing, discussing writing, reading booksall these activities can and should have the same primacy in a person's life as, say, going to the dentist. Writing is real. It matters.

RUN FOR GRUB: Can you define your Grub community?
My Grub community ranges from the people that I hang with on Saturday night (I've made some of the best friends of my life at Grub Street), and my students who I teach on weekdays, as well as the teens I work with one Saturday a month. The community are the people I bump into at cafes in Somerville and with whom I stop to chat about agents and first drafts and revising. There are also the wonderful people with whom I have a communal blog, Beyond the Margins, all people I met through a Grub novel class.

Also, I am not only a teacher but continue to be a student at Grub, so my community includes the people in my workshops who inspire me (like you, Cathy!) and my teachers. One of my other favorite Grub instructors has me over every Christmas and Easter and how can I put words to that? To the generosity and warmth and kindness that permeates the classes and pours out into all of our daily lives?

Well, before I get all sentimental, this would be a good place to mention that I'm also the captain of the Grub Street softball team. This means that my Sundays during the summer are pretty much spent shouting at novelists and memoirists and filmmakers to stay on the freaking base! Run it in! SLIDE!!! Those are happy days indeed.

RUN FOR GRUB: What does Grub Street's magic feel like to you?
It feels like the kind of laughter that brings tears to your eyes. And maybe that's because so many of the workshops I'm in, they just end up being so funny. The stuff people reveal about themselves, and the way we all press in close to one another and jump off a cliff into the big nothingness of This Thing Called Writing, together, in a class, learning from each other, it seems to me the whole thing makes people positively giddy. So the magic feels to me like joy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Crap People Don't Tell You About Running: #3

So I tripped and fell again yesterdayif you look closely, you can see evidence of my scraped up hands in the sweaty and seriously unflattering photo at right (yes, I sometimes rest my sunglasses atop my baseball cap; no, my hands aren't actually bigger than my head).

This time it was Lady Sovereign's Love Me or Hate Me playing in my ear when I fell, and mere seconds before my tumble, I was wondering if the fact that today's play list included Eminem and Lady Sovereign back-to-back meant I had somehow been catapulted from nerdy to hip.

A trip, a dive, a roll and the answer was a very clear "no."

But while hipper seems desperately out of the reach of graceless, old me, faster is a word I can get behind. I ran my 3 mile run in 29:44, a time that included precious seconds wasted on
  • tripping,
  • rolling on to the sidewalk,
  • getting back up,
  • brushing off the dust,
  • taking a moment to thank the gods of running (Marathon?) that I'd managed to avoid the pile of dog shit close to where I rolled into the grass, and obsessively checking my body to make sure I had in fact avoided the dog shitI had.
Given that daydreaming while distracted by music may just turn me into the first runner in history to develop callouses on her palms as a direct result of marathon training, you'd think I might consider the relative health merits of running in silence, but no way. I'd sooner be the wacko in Winthrop who runs in a crash helmet than give up my tunes.

But I would like to pose a sponsorship challengeI hereby found the consolation contribution. If you want to be a consolation contributor, just visit my sponsorship page and donate $10 for every fall I take. We're starting at $20, but I feel I should warn you that there's no upper bound.

And so without further ado, today's crappy thing people don't tell you about running is this: Careless and clumsy runners will get to know road rash intimately. And often, apparently.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Crap People Don't Tell You About Running: #2

Take a look outside today. The mercury's inching into the mid sixties, the sun's shining, the lilacs are ready to bust, and the sun's dancing along the water in that way that makes your inner 3-year-old believe that the ocean just might be where all the other stars nap when the sun starts shining.

Idyllic. Bucolic. Pastoral. Just a few of the words that leap to mind when spring has finally come to New England for good. A perfect day to loop my run along the beach, I thought. Unfortunately, the gnat-like winged demons that delight in dive-bombing anyone who gets within two feet of the seawall had similar thoughts.

For walkers, beach bugs are an annoyance that results in waving the pests every few minutes, but the situation's a little more dire for runners. Because as we bounce along, panting heavily with our mouths gaping open to catch our breath, the bugs see our uvulas as a swinging target double-dog-daring them to go for it, and go for it hard.

The second crappy thing people don't tell you about running is that chokijng down a bug is pretty much inevitatble. As is being laughed at when you stop dead in the throes of some seriously unladylike gagging and spitting.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at

Monday, April 19, 2010

Crap People Don't Tell You About Running: #1

When you think about the hurdles a person might have to clear while training for a marathon, sore muscles; shin splints; and dehydration sprint immediately to mind. Perhaps the issue of how a pokey little puppy like myself will actually find the time to put in those long runs (going public helps).

There are so many known running demons that it's easy for many of the death-by-paper-cut snafus to fly under the radar. So today I begin the first in an occasional series I'm gonna call "Crap People Never Mention About Running." So without further ado, the first crappy thing nobody mentions is this: Running will definitely double your laundry chore—it might even triple it.
There was a time before we moved into our condo when my husband and I went to the laundromat together and amused ourselves by watching the kind of soap opera that can only be delivered through the fights people have over the spin cycle, but those laundry dates are the closest I've ever come to washing my husband's dirty socks for him. So it came as quite the shock when I started to find myself besieged by the ever growing pile of sweat-drenched leggings, balled-up blister-prevention socks, and soggy underthings. As excited as I was to have my inner runner move in with my husband and me, it turns out she's a sweaty pig of a roommate who shows no sign of either cleaning up after herself or moving out any time soon.

Bad, runner! Bad!

Because the other runners in your life will have all kinds of tips for avoiding overuse injury and staying hydrated during long runs, I'm gonna go ahead and give you the best tip I have for tackling the Sisyphean laundry task that's just one of the many hidden perks of marathon training: commit to a color family in your running clothes.

Variety may, indeed, be the spice of life, but if you wear the lights and brights in your workout wardrobe in equal measure, you're gonna end up doing twice the laundry. Decide now if your running clothes will lean toward the lights (white and pastels) or the brights (black and bright colors). That way when it comes time to wash the stinking masses, you can throw the whole lot into the washing machine without a thought. Added bonus for women who choose brights? You never have to worry about your orange-and-pink-striped running bra shining through your light shirt like so much Vegas neon.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Birthdays and Baubles

Today's my birthday. Tomorrow's my wedding anniversary. And though I've managed to get my miles in around the celebratory shenanigans that have been happening since Friday, my diet over the last two days has been more John Candy on a bender than Cathy Elcik on a training regimen. I'm OK with this.

Before the heads of the running purists among you go on and explode, know that I paid for everyone of the culinary baubles of the last two days with a rubbery-legged 3-mile training run this morning. And I'm OK with this, too.

Though there's definitely a birthday cake in my future to celebrate National Butter Cream Frosting Appreciation Day (this is what one of the Run for Grub sponsors calls a birthday), my meals for the foreseeable future will be made up of a whole lot of fruit, whole grains, and lean protein.

And though this is the only birthday I'll celebrate during training, I'm sure this weekend's tasty hijinks won't be the last bauble over the next fifteen weeks (Grub Street's upcoming Muse and the Marketplace conference is always good for at least a couple glasses of wine, for example).

Let me be clear, here: I've made no promises to run the perfect marathonI just want to cross that finish line with my fundraising goals met or exceeded. Let's make that our working definition of the perfect marathon from here on out, shall we?

And while we're redefining perfect scenarios, if you've been waiting for the perfect moment to flip your coins into the Run for Grub well, what better time than on the 35th birthday of the runner herself? Is this shameless? Maybe. But nothing seems quite as shameless as the sudden urge I'm having for turtle cheesecake and shoestring fries and, and, and too many other pound-packing pleasures to take the time to name here.


I hereby dedicate the thirty-three miles I'm scheduled to run in weeks two and three to whittling all traces of the last two days from my middle. Buoy my mood by making that pledge you've been meaning to make for my birthday today?

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at