Saturday, June 19, 2010

Your Turncoat Flesh

My 16-mile run yesterday was going along fine...right up until it wasn't.

Despite an extra day of rest (see "The Truant's Tale"); despite feeling good enough halfway through the run to joke about the process on Facebook and Twitter; and despite a water break somewhere between miles 9 and 10 that made me feel like I was starting afresh, at 14.75 miles, my body betrayed me. My head felt like it was detached from my neck, and the air around me dimmed in that way it had the one time I ever passed out. So I did something I've never done on a training run yet: I stopped and sat in the shade.

With my head lolled near my knees, I thought about my options. My husband was at work, so there was no calling him to the rescue (and truth be told, I wanted to finish the run more than I wanted rescuing). I scanned the street--I suppose the a man slamming the door of his F150 and the retirees kibitzing on a porch were folks I could have asked to fill my water bottle. But then the world clicked back into focus, so I stood back up and struck a deal with myself: walk until my iPod/pedometer told me I'd covered 15 miles and then jog for the final mile.

As I left the people in the neighborhood behind me, a couple of taxis screamed along the road, and I worried that this was a sign that I should have stopped and asked the old men for water, that I should have flagged down a taxi, that I should have given up. When the nice woman's voice on my pedometer announced: 400 meters to go, my playlist served up Andrew W K's "Ready to Die." The inspirational first verse goes as follows:
This is your time to pay!
This is your judgment day!
We made a sacrifice!
And now we get to take your life!!
If I had been feeling slightly better, I'd have laughed at the irony of those lyrics, though I suppose if I was feeling slightly better, the lyrics wouldn't have been so ironic. Either way you look at it there was nothing at all ironic about the dive my general well being took when I got home.

When your body turns on you--even temporarily--a part of your consciousness abandons your turncoat flesh to watch the show. You watch a person who looks a lot like you struggle to keep her head up against the dizziness. You see her arms hanging at her side, so leaden, you wonder if this is the wall runners talk about hitting. You hear her muscles screaming to be stretched, but watch as her nausea and her inability to balance refuses to let it happen. You marvel at how even though her body is in need of water and food more direly than she's ever needed them before, the act of chewing and the sensation of the water slime-ing around her tongue trips her gag reflex. And when you do snap back to your body, you're fascinated at its inability to care for itself in the moment--sure you are--but mostly you're scared.

You find that you can stomach water if you're lying down, so you hit the bed and drink and drink and drink. And when you feel yourself drifting off to sleep, you reach for your phone and set an alarm. You have a minute to wonder if sleep is bad in this situation, like nodding off after you've bumped your head hard, but you can't fight it.

And then, an hour later, when you jump up to silence that alarm, the nausea and dizziness have disappeared as if they'd never been anything more than a bad dream. In fact, the only lingering ill effects from the heat exhaustion and the unscheduled nap are a primal hunger, slight soreness in the legs you weren't able to stretch, and a lingering fear that forces you to take a ragged breath. Forget the proverbial dodged bullet--part of you knows you've just skipped across a firing line without so much as a scratch.*

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

* I recognize now that getting the runs in early in the morning is no joke in this heat. I have three more long runs before the marathon on July 30. I'll be better, I swear.
I swear.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Truant's Tale

The training book I'm following said there was a good chance it would happen, and it finally did. Yesterday. On a day I was supposed to run five miles, I just didn't. Not the end of the world, certainly--I've read the only runs you really can't skip are the long once--but I still have my regrets.

Like the regret I feel for marring my 10-week streak of perfect runner's attendance. Or the regret I feel disguised as dread that a member of the Grub Street police state (which exists only in my guilty imaginings) has written me up some sort of existential ticket. Or the regret I have about spending the whole day thinking I'll run later, later, and later still, instead of embracing the rebel I never quite got around to being in high school, declaring yesterday a total loss, and savoring the devilishly delicious taste of bad behavior throughout the day. Instead, I only gave up on the run well past midnight when it was patently obvious that heading out for five miles at that hour would be stubbornly ludicrous.

Now if I could only apply this valuable lesson about the merits of letting go early to the bloated behemoth of a novel outline skulking in the corner of my study where it laughs and laughs and laughs....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grub Tales: Grace Talusan

Grace Talusan’s writing has been published in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Best American Medical Writing 2009, Solstice, The Drum, and other publications. She contributes book reviews to The Rumpus. Sometimes she blogs and she twitters even less. She teaches writing at Grub Street and Tufts University. Someday, she will publish a book or two. PHOTO BY ALONSO NICHOLS.

RUN FOR GRUB: How did you learn about Grub Street?
GRACE TALUSAN: About five years ago, my friend Ricco Siasoco connected me to Chris Castellani, Artistic Director of Grub Street. Chris was looking for more teachers. I almost declined because I thought I wouldn’t have time for another teaching gig, but Chris was sincere about wanting to support underrepresented writers, especially those in Grub Street’s neighborhood. I’d just returned from the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA) summer writing workshop, and I was hoping to work with writers of color. While this isn’t Grub Street’s main mission, I know that Grub cares deeply about the community in which it operates. Both The Young Adult Writing Project, especially the summer fellowship they give to teens to study writing, and The Memoir Project, convinced me that Grub was an organization I wanted to participate in.

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?
GRACE TALUSAN: When I was in graduate school, my teacher Wilton Barnhardt was emphatic that writers should have writer friends. At the time, I didn’t understand why. I thought having writer friends was limiting, but in hindsight, I realize that my discomfort had more to do with the jealousy I’d sometimes feel when my writer friends published or won awards or otherwise succeeded in areas where I wasn’t. Once I started teaching at Grub, I started making more writer friends. Pretty quickly, I realized how helpful it was to have people around me who believed that writing and reading are worthwhile, meaningful, and productive ways to spend time. My writer friends make so many happy things in my life possible.

RUN FOR GRUB: What is the best thing about Grub Street?
GRACE TALUSAN: Grub Street is more than just a place for classes—it’s a community, a network. There’s a place at Grub Street for bestselling authors and literary agents and recent MFA graduates and students taking their first writing class ever. While most of my students range in ages between twenty and fifty, I’ve taught high school students and several students over seventy. I love finding out what people do outside of writing—one student was a zookeeper, another a trapeze artist, several were stay at home mothers and fathers, some were between jobs, while others were accomplished leaders in their fields. Recently, on the first day of class, a student confessed, “I’m kind of famous on the internet,” a line which still makes me laugh when I think of it. Grub Street is a community of writers who are generous and supportive to other writers, while at the same time, committed to improving their work.

RUN FOR GRUB: What's your most magical Grub Street memory?
GRACE TALUSAN: About a year and a half ago, I participated in a Grub Street group reading at Newtonville Books. The room was full of my favorite Grub Street friends as well as people I’d never met before. Chris Castellani introduced me. I remember he kept using the word “beloved” to describe me. He said that whenever he mentioned my name, people’s faces would light up. Hearing this made me want to weep with joy. Once I stood behind the podium and faced the packed room, I couldn’t even look at Chris, much less thank him properly, because I was afraid I’d cry and wouldn’t be able to read from a memoir about my mastectomy. What a gift to hear those words. Whenever I’m feeling bereft or despairing, I remember what he said: You are beloved.