How I became a runner and other meditative ramblings…

Running is the last thing I want to do today. My calves are loaded with petulant resistance, and the ache of 2,000 inexplicable miles ran in the past year and a half.
But, I push off like I always do, and it’s still a slight surprise every time. My feet drum down on a path that always seems to both elude and gratify me. The pace is arrhythmic and the strides are awkward. My torso shifts around on top of squat legs. No. My body is not like those lean Olympians in Runner’s World. My body is a Jenga tower, lopsided in action and eternally poised to topple.
But, the inertia of movement helps me to forget my apparent absurdity. On the 101, runners ribbed with muscle sprint ahead. Ponytails flick and tick past me like minute hands that clock a sometimes mediocre pace. The voice in my head says, “You’re not running fast enough,” or, worse, “You’re not good enough.”
But, I push on.
And, this is the single greatest thing I’ve discovered about myself as a runner: I push on. Past the literal pain of shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, and the sore calf muscles. And, also, past the painful abstractions: the self-doubt, the anger, and the depression.

The Beginning

I became a runner two winters ago in Catonsville, Maryland. At the time, I was unhealthy on several floors of myself. If the house of a “self” is constructed of mind, body and soul, all three floors were suffering the wear of time and poor choices.
My body was flabby, and I generally preferred not to think about it. Instead of acknowledging my dire need for major life changes, I routinely scarfed down Taco Bell enchiladas and Wendy’s cheeseburgers with my stoner ex-boyfriend.
I also had an appetite for a variety of illicit substances. Heroin ritually crawled through my blood veins. When I couldn’t have heroin, coke sufficed. Junkfood and opiates medicated my sadness. Heroin may not have cured my depression, but it did help me float off and away from the reality of it.

My scatterbrained psychiatrist at the time prescribed Xanax and Viibryd to treat my depression. When I came up on Viibryd, my legs flailed and flounced restlessly for hours at night. My brain felt like taut guitar strings (strung too tight) that were plucked painfully, and repeatedly. It took several weeks to adapt to the 40mg dosage, and once I had, I didn’t necessarily feel happy. Just wired. Jittery. Like so many bored, self-indulgent Americans, popping a pill in a dark room lit only by a television screen was much easier than attempting to discern the root of my sadness.

My relationship, like other facets of my life, was a tepid affair. It was comfortable, and altogether uninspired. My boyfriend was complacent and content to cohabitate forever in our attic of long-expired passion. Although, I wonder if it was ever even there? He wiled away the hours playing Wii U in a cloud of ever-present marijuana smoke. My resentment grew daily, but I never left. I was afraid. Of what?
But, if anyone was going to reach deep down into their deflated soul, and discover some sort of salvation, it was going to have to be me. I hadn’t realized all of this yet. And, as a sidenote to anyone reading, it’s delusory to think that you can manufacture or force love. True love may take courage, but it is organic. Love is effortless. Love, if it’s truly there, will perpetuate in its perfection long after you perish —with the right person.
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! It is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;”

Bottomline: You cannot TRY to love someone. You either love them of you don’t.

One Fateful Morning

One morning of “no particular consequence,” I went for my first run. I can’t explain why it happened other than to reason that I’d probably reached breaking point. After all, I’d slept for 14 hours the previous night, half of which was heroin induced. I was sick of my lethargic indifference, and incapable of watching myself slowly die (although my boyfriend seemed unfazed by this fate). He dozed on the beige sheets of our bed in a stained undershirt and boxers, also dreaming the dragon dreams of too much heroin.

I craved the organic – something that didn’t come in a neon green dime bag. I longed for trees and flowers and deeply-felt life.
So, I ran.
I ran for approximately 1.5 miles with split times of 16 minutes. Each stride left me panting in agony. The next day I ran 1.38 miles. The next, 3.86.
But, there was something coming to fruition inside of me beyond the reached threshold of my physical pain. In the beginning, running was like unearthing an old trunk of childhood toys in my parents’ attic. It was a flashback to July evenings, the sun still alive and drizzling its honey over the stained glass sky at 8:30 pm. The fireflies were alight on the evening breeze and drifting over my sweaty body. I remembered feeling both electric and exhausted after a day spent romping through backyards and wading through Columbia creeks.

After taking such a lengthy hiatus from exercise, the experience of running was like greeting an old friend. It was a reunion and reassembly of the scattered parts of myself. For over a decade, I’d done my best to cover the bulges and curves of my body. But, running was an act of reacquainting and wedding myself to my body’s capabilities.
At the suggestion of a friend, I fueled my runs with fresh vegetable juices and plant-based meals. Retiring the junkfood diet purged my body, and uncluttered my mind. As I ran, I harnessed a sort of clarity. Running and eating properly allowed me to squarely assess my life, and the changes I needed to make if I was ever going to be happy.
I stopped doing heroin, too, which was surprisingly easy despite its notoriously addictive reputation. Once I became a runner, heroin made me sick. I didn’t derive the same lukewarm numbness anymore. It made me reel and vomit. My body rejected the artificial high of heroin in favor of natural endorphins. This, of course, is only one more example of how running saved my life.

I didn’t know it at the time, and the events that would later transpire, in consequence, were entirely unanticipated. But, I suppose when I began to run, I changed. As I transformed, the gap between the life I was living and the life I hoped to live became bridgeable.

Shortly therafter, I met the love of my life. I think that I met him because I was finally ready to meet him. Running literally and figuratively trimmed the excess and the excuses. It filled me with confidence, and demonstrated to me my own remarkable resilience and strength. It was then that I let go of the empty relationship I’d clung to for security with my ex-boyfriend, and gleefully pursued my explosive passion for the incredibly brilliant, and handsome man who is now my fiancé (! Happiest girl in the whole damn world !). To quote Joseph Campbell, I “followed my bliss,” and I haven’t looked back since (unless you count this blog). My fiancé and I now both live (and run) in Southern California.

Running has come to represent freedom to me. I live for Sausalito mornings where the dirt path winds unending behind the emerald California hillsides. Like a yellow brick road, off into Oz. I live for the gold plated clouds as the Carlsbad sun sinks into the depths of ocean with my sneaker prints in the sand. I live to run past the city fairs and docked boats of Santa Barbara, and past the enchanted, seaside cottages of Carmel. I live for the feeling that I am exactly where I always wanted, hoped and dreamed I would be… Mind, body and soul.

Ages and ages hence, I shall be telling this with a sigh

On Sunday mornings, the bedroom blinds rise and fall in the soft, yellow breeze. Piano keys inflate a somber, life raft melody, and I drift off. These tectonic thoughts of mine shift so quickly. There’s little time to acquaint myself with the person I’ve become or am becoming.

Six months ago, I didn’t even know him. I’d read about Big Sur, but I’d never planted my feet at that Pacific precipice. Six months ago, I hadn’t ferried from Sausalito to San Francisco or walked Rodeo Drive. That was someone else’s life.

Six months ago, I spent my hours running along Woodlawn Avenue in Catonsville. I enjoyed looking at the old Victorians back there. Each one, a dollhouse with petite turrets and mansard roofs, freshly iced with Christmas lights. In window cutouts, mothers heaved toddlers over their shoulders. Elderly men ticked through newspapers, exasperation on their weathered, roadmap faces. The street was lit only by endless, window illuminations. I followed the pockets of light like breadcrumbs into the dark. What was I looking for then, if not for him? Dead leaves fluttered across the vacant road, and the boughs of the trees twisted overhead like arteries.

Six months ago, I found happiness in a tiny, electric green Ziploc bag. Happiness was $20 and it stuffed my head with clouds as the snow fell. I drifted off on those Sunday mornings too. Sleeping for hours and hours. The sounds of truck engines and children’s laughter outside reminded me how detached I’d become. So many Sundays spent in a hazy daydream. I remember the way the bump of brown grit looked on our granite countertop. There was a solace I took in the ritual of breaking each clump with my driver’s license.

But, now that love is here, and I run in the light, and happiness comes without a drug deal in a Baltimore alley, my life is more fractured than its ever been. Every heavy hour that passes without him is an ailing desire I cannot satisfy, and every Sunday morning is an idle invention of time. 

“If You’re Going to San Francisco…

be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…”

Life is exceptionally good right now. In fact, my quality of life is downright enviable. Just to rub it in (in case I haven’t adequately done that yet), I’m writing this blog from the deck of my apartment in Carlsbad, California, okay? The sun is resplendent and my skin is glittering with this beautiful, bronze sheen I haven’t had since I was a kid. I’m living out the kind of perfection that others spend their whole lives dreaming about, before dying without. But, what I’ve (miraculously) stumbled into is more than just the financial means to live in paradise for the coming year. My luck incurred a superior fortune because what I’ve found is not money. And, it can never be depleted. 

I won the life lottery.

Suffice it to say, this fortune was entirely unexpected, which is part of its wild beauty. It has also been quite secretive because there are (unfortunately) several people who would love to stomp out this beautiful fire. I don’t much enjoy the secrecy, but I think when life proffers some new, delicate bud, it’s your duty to nurture it and shelter it from harm (as mentioned in my first blog). This time in my life has opened my eyes to truths about myself that I somehow missed for the past 25 years. Opening my eyes has been involuntary though. Love unhinged each lid, and I exist in this divine daze. I bicycle around Carlsbad, and inhale the aroma of so many beautiful indigo and magenta flowers. Pigments explode, foods have never tasted better, and I don’t even recognize my reflection anymore. I’m a different person. After years of depression and darkness, it’s like I staggered, by accident, into the light. Into love– and, with a scientist of all people.

Falling in love with a scientist would be utter, artistic masochism were we not (and I don’t say this crap lightly) some cosmically ordained coupling. Fortunately, I’ve a penchant for light masochism, and so, as he put, we are this great “cosmic confluence.” His love is a steady mirror that elucidates all that I was missing before. He gives me everything I need to live and love my life completely. I hope I give that to him, too. And so, we share this perfect, untouchable love. With the lure of logical brilliance and calm, he calls me out of my poppy fields of poetic desire . With Hirsch funnels and Erlenmeyer flasks? It’s silly, I know. But, I think I shake and rattle him out of the rigidity of a black and white life. Together, we share the most profound love of the Pacific Ocean. Even if he is calculating the time between waves, and I’m devising metaphors for “the ebb and flow of my life,” we’re both adrift in our inextinguishable passion.

He undoes me.

I incite earthquakes of mass destruction, and he stands still. I fall back from all of that chaos. Right into him.


San Diego Night Life


I spent over an hour roaming aimlessly around 7th avenue (or was it 8th?) trying to figure out where the fuck I parked my goddamn car. K street? J? L, M, N, O, P? If ever there was a worry about a lack of parking options in San Diego, fear not… there are INFINITE parking garages that all look the same. I remembered my garage as the one that charged $15, but apparently price signs change as the night goes on. The city became a shifting, intelligent labyrinth.

But, it’s okay.

It’s also okay that I don’t really know anyone in this fantastically bizarre place. I consider tonight, and all nights hereafter, an exalted exercise in self-reliance. Most people would be reduced to nervous sweats by now, but, misfortune and parking amnesia are par for the course. The serpentine, ambling routes make all the direct trips to the parking garage that much sweeter, right? The direct routes deprive you of the characters, hanging on the walls, along the way. It’s all part of the great experience. What’s the worse that could happen? [Insert another platitude here].

The party street raged and vomited green in St. Paddy’s Day reverie. A pair of bedraggled-looking drag queens with emerald Mardis Gras beads stood with their hands on their hips, deep-throating cigarettes on the street corner. One wore a black latex skirt that barely covered her globs of ass. Her scrotum waved at me.

“Oh baby, baby, he’s not worth your time,” she husked.

A waif of a coed in a lime green mesh top hunched over a street sewer, rendered comatose by the exhaustion of her gag reflex. Her circle of voyeuristic friends stood awkwardly around in a crescent formation, waiting for her next pyrotechnic feat of grime and liquor.

Italian men, Indian men, Black men, fat, thin, sour lotharios—moving in packs, attempting to graze the back ends of women who maneuvered expertly through the closing cracks and gaps of people and testosterone. God, the women! These beautiful things. Aspiring models in LA maybe? But, just a 1/16th of an inch to short to qualify so they were boozing. All of them in short shorts in flesh-colored heels that elongated their endless legs. Their eyes flicked across me, but they kept moving around me, over me, on top of me with their vodka and cranberry breath.

I heard the red head in a black cut-out blouse say, “He said he wanted to do it in the ass.” She laughed, her tan abdomen visible through the front slit of her shirt. “Not happening.”

And despite a writer’s habituation on the sidelines, there is no such thing in San Diego. A man with a pierced lip, and an air that gloated a lifetime of privilege cornered me on the street.

“Hey weirdo,” he called in this fresh white shirt, “What are you doing here by yourself? You are way too sexy to be alone. You’re not from around here are you?  Where are you from? Look at you in your red headband!” As I opened my mouth to respond to any one of his questions, he grabbed me by the arm and yelled “TWIRL GORGEOUS!”

Why the fuck not, I figured? I twirled, and twirled and twirled. When the opportunity arises, you twirl. That’s life.

After a while, I extricated myself from him and others though they proved irritatingly dogged about fucking me. Men. I ripped my body off of them like duck tape. As I get older, I hold myself in higher regard. I don’t want to lay under some gorgeous man who doesn’t give a damn about me anymore. What’s to be gained from that moneyed flopping session?

Oh, and I FOUND my car thanks to the help of many sweet, tan parking garage attendants along the way.

Fractions and the Weight of Love

“What happened?” his voice pleaded, cracking. “Is there somebody else?”

“God, no!” I cried too soon.

“Then” he choked back sobs, “What is it? Why would you ever leave us?”

I sat alone on the love seat of our attic apartment, cupping my phone in a cage of fingers. His words came out of the speaker, but they fell to the floor. My half-heart hung from the gallows in my head.

Trucks blazed by on Route 695. Their headlights cut the empty room up, illuminating the place before asphyxiating it in darkness.  Sputtering engine noises consumed the carnal silence.

“I wanted to marry you, Ashley.”

It was never clearer to me that his love, in all its temperate complexity, was not mine to keep. When we met, I had nothing but negative experiences to compare my conflicted feelings to so I thought that love must be languid like him. His love was gentle, so I allowed myself to climb to a safe summit with him. My love was tepid. The irrepressible volatility in me, the need for control, quickly overthrew him.

Our love story was a broken lullaby that left me slightly restless at night. Decembers gave way to Decembers and, for years, I talked and tossed myself into a light sleep. I took Xanax, and laid stiff with my back boarded against him.

But, every night, he reached for me through cold sheets. His hands were warm, but my body was cold. In all of my listless melancholy, my rigidity softened in the reach of his embrace. He was an angel that I slowly starved.

The erupting truth of us came out of me all at once. It was inescapable in the end and deluged us. It was a gospel that leered at me from the beginning. Taunting me after so much time. My selfishness infuriated me.

“I don’t love you, Gerrod.” I said, “I am so sorry.” I let myself fall into an ocean of fully realized deception.

“What do you mean? You love me,” he cried weakly, “You know you love me.”

“I love you. I do.” Violins played in my voice as I struggled to bury our emaciated relationship.

“But,” I broke, “I am not in love with you.”

This was too much for him. The phone line went dead.

The proceeding silence was electrifying. My emotions revved through me violently. Relief and terror dueled as my brain processed this final, slicing detachment. I was ready.

I lay baby’s breath and white lilies, pallid like our grief, at our gravestone. They were colorless, but beautiful.

Our last words summoned passionate tides that seized us, then released us. There was a sense of dispossession, and of balance. In the end, his jagged, grasping love for me didn’t prove as incisive as my soft detachment.

The rest of the callous world took no notice of our break-up. People were unaware of our tiny corner of love that ruptured, then faded. Life went on without mournful silence or penance for the three years I spent with the softhearted man I never truly loved.

Three years of walking through the snow-covered playgrounds in Maryland.

Three years of frozen yogurt shops, and drugs.

Three years of laughter, and fights.

Three years with this wonderful man before I fell completely and utterly in love with someone else.

From Summer of Love to Annapolis in 17 Years

Home to California

Grateful Dead in Haight-Ashbury

I was born halfway between Monterey and San Francisco in the Summer of 1967.  The Monterey Pop Festival had happened a couple of months before, and the Summer of Love was underway in the Haight-Ashbury.  My parents had just moved the family up the coast from Monterey, to the little town of Mountain View.  While Mountain View is now known for Google, back then it was cherry orchards and new tract homes.  I was the youngest in a large family, and my closest sibling was six years older than me. My parents were the farthest from the Summer of Love as humanly possible.  Married in 1942, my Dad fought in the South Pacific during the war and came home to raise a family in post-war California.  They were definitely not hippies, and the Grateful Dead did not exist in their minds.

I had the benefit of learning about life from…

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The Man in the Black Suit

I overlooked him at first, but he had seen me right away. He was the man in the black suit, occupying the third booth from the back. I didn’t recognize him from college. In his facebook pictures, he smiled a wild smile at a bar with friends. In another photograph, he embraced an older man, perhaps his Father, in front of a twinkling Christmas tree. But, today, beneath the light fixtures in the cavernous restaurant, he was gaunt and sallow looking. His long nose slid down into thin lips that curled in weak defense.

The man in the suit was some big deal in advertising, and sounded ever so effeminate when he spoke. He seemed to love his job because whenever he mentioned it, his eyes lit back up. Every morning, he tossed ideas around a conference table with “the women” at his office.

He said, “Oh my god,” in a husky, but slightly feminine way, “I don’t know why the industry is so populated with women. But, 55% of college graduates will be women next year. They’re so much more emotionally mature.”

He answered his own questions when he talked.

He was quick to talk. Too quick. Like me. I think the silence that hung between words scared him. Whole worlds were constructed and torn down in his mind in a simple glance. His was a mind that was rapid to conjure an impression or sell a product, or an idea. It was fast, but tortured. It had suffered the lovelorn blows of fickle women.

The man in the suit told me about his wife that afternoon, and how he wasn’t mad about the fact that she no longer loved him. He wasn’t even mad that she was outwardly hostile toward him.

He sat like a scarecrow, lost momentarily in a head that seemed like a dusty attic, cast in shadows.

He said, “I still make her lunch every morning, and make lunch for the kids. There’s no malice there. She likes her apple diced with a side of pecans.”

I believed him because his eyes looked swollen, and puffy. I asked him if he was okay.

Clouds seemed to pass through his eyes, and I wanted to hug him because he never answered. I wanted to tell him it would be okay, and that Friday night wouldn’t always feel like a “cage.”

Right now, I expect he’s sitting with his father who is dying of Parkinson’s. He’ll stay with him until 3AM. Until his Father falls asleep. He does this every weekend. His father has had Parkinson’s for “two years now.”

And, when I feel sad, and alone. When Baltimore, with all of its people, buildings and whirring traffic, feels like too much, I’ll remember to take a breath, and to think about the men and women who sit alone, like me, tonight. I’ll think about the man in the black suit.