Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pixie Dust

On a lighter note, I would like to note that everything is always changing and yet the same. For instance, I recently dropped my eldest at college. She is a freshman. What got me was not only the devastation (I put up a good front but cried for the first 2 hours of the drive home, then pulled myself together, worried that crying while driving was about like texting while driving in terms of danger to self and others), but also the generally overweight and old appearing parents. I kept looking at myself and thinking, dang am I like that? And I think maybe I am, but it is a hard pill to swallow. And for as long as they have made colleges, the parents of students have looked out of place. It is written in some book somewhere, I know.

Tomorrow, school starts for one of my still-at-homes. Back to school he goes, after a hiatus of independent study. Here is what has changed in my view of education since I started parenting. If you are a new parent or not yet a parent but plan to be in the future, feel free to take notes.
1) Rich people who can send their kids to private schools with a lot of resources, small classes, and a high standard for academics will get a better education. I used to think public schools were where it is at, and I continue to use them, but the harsh truth is they, by necessity, cater to those who are already going to be successful, not those who need that extra something. And I am as about as liberal as they come.
2) Boys are not welcome in public schools, unless they act like girls. I used to think boys and girls were more a societal pressure difference than an actual difference. But boys make guns with hands and sticks before they ever watch a TV show and they make things drive like cars before anyone teaches them to, and they are, in general, bewildered by the rules of school, which largely include keeping your hands politely on your lap and yes-ma'aming a lot. God help you if you are a boy with an engine that needs to stay revved during all waking hours.
3) I love public school teachers. Just to be clear.
4) I had better change the subject as this is no longer qualifying as "on a lighter note".
5) I dropped out of high school at age 16 and went to college. Little known fact.
6) No, I will not be making up those lost PE credits. I burned that uniform long ago.

My other still-at-home has 2 more weeks of summer,  as there is a late start for some of our schools in town. She is off at camp and is generally the busiest human being I know. Anyway, I have 2 more weeks to try to talk her into cross country as the sport of choice. Wish me luck.

And what does any of this, aside from pushing my child into the best sport ever, have to do with running? I have noticed that about 3 months ago I made a goal for myself, regarding marathon times and pixie dust. Actually really it was just about marathon times, but I am now in search of pixie dust because without it I am not sure if I can believe. I am almost never injured. In high school, a stress fracture put my tibia out of commission. A few years ago, my achilles tendon screamed at me for awhile. And for awhile my iliotibial band rubbed me the wrong way. But since I declared a goal for the 26.2, my body has been in full rebellion. Head to toe, actually: depression. Back pain (thank God for Molly, masseuse extraordinaire). Hamstring tightness. Plantar fasciitis. And most recently what was surely, in my mind, a stress fracture, though now I think most likely just garden variety shin splints. It is like the Field of Screams. If you declare the goal, they will make you succumb.

As long as they have made runners, they have made injuries. But they have also made dreams. And spandex. What did we run in prior to spandex?

I want to briefly discuss the iliotibial band, known also as the ITB. I have seen it up close and personal in my anatomy class. It is like a really big, long piece of beef jerky. How can it possibly be stretched? Have you ever tried to stretch a piece of beef jerky? What, exactly, is beef jerky anyway?

Tinker Bell was supposedly created from the laugh of the first baby (Adam? Caveman? Was it a girl? Who came first, the baby or the Mom?), which broke into a thousand pieces and went skipping about, starting the whole fairy thing. The first Tinker Bell model was Margaret Kerry. She had to wear a swim suit for 6 months so the animator of Tinkerbell could draw her and her "slender cute figure". OMG.

All I am saying is that Peter Pan could not fly without the Pixie Dust. And I want some of that.

Modern Day Pixie Dust for Marathoners and other Miscreants:
1) A Coach,
2) Adequate Sleep.
3) Zen and the Art of Musculoskeletal Maintenance.
4) A Sense of Humor.
5) A Dog Who Will Not Tolerate a Day Without a Run.
6) Daily Stretches of the Beef Jerky and Such Tendons.
7) Realization that Being a Master Means You Might Be Old,  But Damn Are You Ever Wise!
8) Knowledge that the Kids will be What They Will Be. Now Go For a Run, For Heaven's Sake.
9) Shoes. Stop Going Barefoot. Unless You Weigh 12 Pounds.
10) Belief.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I wrote about depression recently. Of course it is on everybody's radar now, at least for a few minutes.

Robin Williams was so funny. Nay, the funniest. He used to scare me a little back in the 70's and 80's when he would just get going on some stage and the host of whatever show he was on was clearly no longer in the driver's seat, but sat back in awe, probably thinking something like "I used to be funny too." Over the decades, RW mellowed a bit. Probably more sober, maybe less manic.

He rode bike to feel well. He talked about this a little last year on The Daily Show. Also, in "Night at the Museum 2" (yes I watched this and I enjoyed it, so there) he, as Teddy Roosevelt, said the key to happiness is "daily physical exercise". The key to so much in our health is daily physical exercise: I do not care if you are 5 or 95, wobbly or an elite athlete. When I tell people this as a doctor, their eyes generally glaze over. It is not B.S. though, it is science.

So maybe if Robin Williams had just gone for more bike rides? Ah, if only. And yes, maybe. But it can be hard to get in the saddle when you are pinned under despair, and particularly if that despair is accompanied by a whiskey chaser. Or whatever the drug of choice (video games? meth? our local personal favorite, weed?).

There is a general malaise that has always accompanied being human, and we have become fairly adept at using technology and busy-ness to avoid it. I am reading This House of Sky by Ivan Doig right now. In that time and place (ranching in the unrelenting wilds of Montana, mid last century and earlier), hard work really does not leave any space for malaise. It is a lovely memoir, a tenderly painted picture and a love story of sorts, love of land and family. It also is about the pain of loss. Their life sort of sucks: I keep imagining my own children being put to the chores, the constant moving, the boarding with townsfolk they hardly know during school months. I cannot imagine it.

The ranchers, with their outhouses and their biting off of the testicles of baby lambs, are not movie stars, nay icons of a generation or three, living in one of the most beautiful parts of Marin County. Not like Robin Williams.

Everyone has their struggle, it is said. I am here to tell you that is a fact, though some people glide through much easier than others, and I am just not sure why that is. We are just made up of all these cells and chemicals and infinitely smaller particles that flavor us just so, and somehow hold us together in the days we are allotted here on Earth.

My father sang every morning, while knotting his tie in front of the mirror of his room in his very modest home. He was a dramatic guy, and funny and unpredictable in his humor, unapologetic to the world for being himself, all full of opinions about justice and peace. You just never knew when he would break into an imitation of Richard Nixon, or break into song in a public place. He had a heart attack in his early 40's, and several after. He lost his wife, he had a heart transplant, he watched his children struggle, he watched the world continue to war with itself. And yet he sang. He walked religiously, and I think he knew religious, being a pastor and all. And he just made this one request to me: leave the world better than how you found it. He rarely swore (at least not in English), and almost never involving God in that transaction. But I did hear him once say "That goddamn depression." He knew that it was real, and not everyone can greet the day with song, no matter how hard they will themselves to do so.

There is an opportunity, in losing such a widely loved man as Robin Williams, for a better understanding and a bit more compassion for the struggles of others. Because that is really why we are here on Earth: to be kind to others.

And to exercise. Seriously, exercise is the strongest drug, the purest medicine, the absolute best high, the ticket to a front row seat in the happy life extravaganza.

Music is good too. As is nature.

My oldest child leaves for college in 2 days. That alone could be cause for complete devastation. And yes, I am sad. But inside of me there is this little burst joy for her. The world, it is out there. Its pleasures and hurts must be deeply mined and there is no time to waste. Read! Write! Learn Latin, go to parties, run cross country, stay up late and study. Fall in love. Learn about your inner strength. Visit often. Call even more often. And never forget, in times of despair, that you are deeply loved. Leave the world better than how you found it. Be kind to others. Notice everything. Exercise daily.

We must not let Robin Williams dash our hopes. He was gifted. He gave us his gift. And he also was human and deeply mired in goddamn depression. The world might have been kinder to him.

Rest in peace.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Every day at exactly 11:30 am, I am treated to a chorus of "Oh, When the Saints". I am seated above an adult day health center, with a window to overlook the daily activities. And that is just one of the daily activities. DAILY. I have thought about taping a poster with requests for new songs on my office window, but it occurred to me that my need for variety in musical tunes may not meet the needs of an elder with significant memory loss. Routine, dependable, unwavering, predictable routine might be the best thing. And delving into the oldies is no mistake. A person with dementia may not remember what they had for breakfast or that they met you 5 minutes ago, but they have the most solid of memories of their young years. It is like the brain shuts one door and opens another. During our relatively youthful years the door to the past is maybe just a bit ajar, but we cannot really access the full experience. This may be good, because if I could spend my day playing in my backyard with my Mom bringing me cookies and Kool-Aid, I would probably never get anything else done.

I am not all that old yet, but I am finding myself craving routine. My work offers that now (insofar as any doctor job can: there are usually a few surprises each day. Not at 11:30 am though). My saint of a husband keeps us all fed and watered. My dog knows when it is bedtime and my chickens know when it is time to get up in the morning. My runner self is completely discombobulated though. I have spent so many years in complete time chaos (college, jobs with changeable shifts, med school, residency, and the last 12 years of work ruling me with no intention of offering me a routine) that I developed a plan for running: do it whenever. Which no longer works for this body and mind.

As I find myself relatively out of shape, and signed up for a marathon in 11 weeks, I wonder if it is wise to waddle to the starting line. I am very competitive with myself, and dislike failure. I also respect the marathon. You gotta invest in the aerobic account, or you will find yourself broke and shattered at mile 20.

All that said, it is time to get serious. I am tired of my brain chemistry putting me in a stranglehold. So what if I go and run slow or (gasp) DNF. I could DNS, but I think that might be the end of me. I will just become one of those characters in Wall-E.

Therefore, come humiliation, lactic acidosis or pain beyond belief, I will try.
But I need to focus on what inspires me:

1) Young Warriors.

2) Old (as in friends for a long time, just to be clear), Speedy friends.

3) Dog.

4) Roxana.

5) Beauty.

6) The Strong Person I know resides within.

Oh, When the starting gun sounds its call, Lord I want to be in that number.
And if I am last, well, at least I showed up.

Come on everybody, sing along!