Friday, September 28, 2012

The Love Boat Sailed without Me. (Bugger.)

”I find it immensely incomprehensible that I have such beautiful and talented children both of whom are totally charming, who have been given everything we could afford, not to mention time, effort and a fair amount of dedication, and neither of them can find happiness at 33 and 34 when your Father and I had been married for 10 years by the time we were your age.  Is it really so much more difficult these days or are your expectations so much greater now?  It's a puzzle for which I can find no solution.”

This was the email from the Motherland that got the cogs a-turning this week.  The words swam in front of my eyes—no, I wasn’t drunk—and have been grimacing at me like ever-buoyant synchronized swimmers since.  “IS IT REALLY SO MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THESE DAYS OR ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS SO MUCH GREATER?”  It is a puzzle, isn’t it?  Not just a personal one, but I look to my fabulously single, independent, go-getting female friends and we are much in the same boat, rowing as hard as we can against the tide, and still the good ship Happy Union sails further off into the sunset, every month more of our few remaining egg passengers jumping overboard.
Egg Overboard!

It’s not that we don’t want to catch up, climb aboard, be thrust against the rigging and sail away.  We are willing.  We are capable.  So what keeps us anchored in the row boat not the Love Boat?  And have we had enough of this metaphor yet?

Lordy, this whole discussion make me a Milestone Failure!  Is this like when Paediatricians monitor a baby’s progress: the motor skills, the cognitive skills… all that stuff that I have caught strains of when mothering friends hum over their child’s development.  Do I need remedial class to get me up to speed?  Am I… a relationship retard, doomed to never graduate?


I think not.  So, in my defence Mum, here’s my take: 
Greater Opportunities + Risen Expectations x Social Media Misinterpretation + Fear = ...........................................Relationship Fail.

It isn’t 1962 before the contraceptive pill was widely available; or 1968 when the Civil Rights movement gained the vote for African Americans; or the 70's, 80's and 90's where few women could ever dream of earning salaries like their male equals.  Sure, did women have jobs?  Did you have jobs, Ma?  I know you did, I know you worked hard, but the options available to you were limited, weren't they?  Teacher?  Nurse?  Receptionist?  Retail?  Things HAVE CHANGED.  There's Oprah!  

Seriously though, the playing field is evening out and women can be million entrepreneurs too.  I know, I work with largest group of female self-made millionaires in the US.  I think too, there is immense pressure to be self sufficient, to fly the nest, to "make it in the world," to escape the unenviable label "Gold digger."  Was there so much pressure then?  There certainly wasn't Kanye West.

I do know some who rely on parents or partners, but most of the women I know don’t have that luxury, and frankly, I wouldn’t take it if I did.  I feel it is a matter of honour to be able to support oneself, and on the dating market, does a man really want to shackle himself to financial dead weight?  A woman certainly wouldn’t.  In fact, a potential date having a job is an essential criteria for many of women, myself included.  Not to support me, fuck that, but having someone in your boat who doesn’t help row makes being an Olympic team hard frigging work.

So, as career women, we do have other focuses that sometimes—and I know this is hard to believe—do not revolve around a penis.  Now, I do think this can hinder relationships.  Some want to feel needed, but instead feel unnecessary; some are intimidated, instead of impressed; some view it as a competition, and not a team sport; and that is sad.  Come on guys!  

Personally, I love a hard worker.  I believe if a chap puts effort into giving his best at work, he is going to be primed to achieve at all things, and will put effort in with you—of course, this notion can completely backfire if he uses up all his “effort” and saves none for anyone else, but I think of effort as a renewable fuel.  

There are some jobs, of course, that are mutually exclusive to having a relationship, that is a choice.  That is about priorities, and when man or woman excludes a potential partner over work, well he just didn’t care enough to make a change.

I do work bloody hard.  I do have obligations, but if you ask me out, or invite me over, and I want to date you, I will move heaven and earth to be there. 

Opportunities are not just limited to career, either.  The World is that much more accessible now.  We travel, we adventure, we meet people far, far away; all those years parents were busy getting settled down, my generation has spent traveling, working, damaging their liver, possibly picking up a strange tattoo or STD.

And in seeing this bigger picture of the world, in being more connected than ever, our horizons have broadened and expectations have risen.  I don’t think my expectations are unreasonable, but I do know what I won’t put up with.  I have seen and read of relationships of my parents generation and back further, that were certainly not happy marriages, but partners settled and put up with it.  My generation doesn’t have to.  Life is too short.  Unhappy?  Fix it by all means, but if it is unfixable, move the fuck on.  I sound very laissez faire there don’t I, like marriage is something you can dispose of like a lemon of a car?  I don’t wish to.  I think marriage is a wonderful thing.  The Parental Unit have been going strong for 42 years, and *nausea alert* are still each other’s best friend.  Aw.  But there were rough patches.  I remember sitting up in my fleecy pink nightdress listening to them, and I wonder, if divorce hadn’t held such a big stigma then, if it wouldn’t have caused such an almighty, unacceptable family stink, would they still be together?  I know I don’t settle with mediocre, because life is a waste if you wake up every morning next to someone who doesn’t even see you anymore.

Then there is the added naughty little pixie: social media.  Now, I love social media, I do!  For reaching people and maintaining contact, for building a platform, no writer could, or should be without, but can that naughty pixie bite you in the arse?  Oh baby, I have the scars!  Writing a blog, can be an effective way to scuttle trust, intimacy and commit relationship suicide.  I have perfected the impossible: serial suicide!  

Blogging has also helped to identify those who really support me and those who don’t give a shit.  When someone I am dating, but might not be on a sure-footing with, comments about my blog, it is such a wonderful feeling to know that he has taken the time to actually read what I think!  Maybe he's just scanned it to see if I have mentioned him again.  I don’t care!  He’s read it!  Or bits of it.  And I could just kiss his face off!  When he doesn’t read that’s a sure-fire sign, he doesn’t want me enough.

Texting has got me into an unnecessary black hole of miscommunication.  How can it be that a service that is designed to help one communicate, only seeks to royally misfire when it is in my hands?  A cell phone in my hand is a bit like a grenade. 

In my mind, Texting Eleanor is hilarious!  She is witty!  She can be ambiguous!  She can be sexy!  She can, with just a little diminuitive on his part, unravel her heart and surprise herself for doing it.

What I have been told by recipients: Texting Eleanor is cold!  She is disinterested!  She will die alone with a collection of ferrets, scary porcelain dolls and a drawer full of battery-operated appliances!

HOW CAN THIS GAPING CREVASSE OF MISINTERPRETATION OCCUR?  I had to chuckle when a friend, with whom I had a brief dalliance, posted this on FB. 

Had it not been for gross misintrepretion of text silence, and general assumption of disinterest, we might have rowed together for a lot longer than we did.

For all the “time, effort and fair amount of dedication” that my wonderful mum put in to training me into a socially acceptable individual, she did teach me to keep my heart guarded, and you know what, sorry Mum, but I think this has only succeeded in confusing and infuriating.  

From an evolutionary angle, if a male is surrounded by females and he has to work hard for the attention of one, versus those who don’t “play hard to get,” it’s not worth his time to convert one when he could be having relations and furthering his genes with the others.

The Southern Carrie Bradshaw, Mandy Hale, The Single Woman, said, in an interview to this week,  "I think men really are as simple as they proclaim to be and women want to make them more complicated, because we tend to be more complicated. We tend to be over-thinkers and over-planners, and we always have something deeper going on that we may or may not be willing to share.”  

Maybe we, as women, need to shuck this corset of mystery and just bloody well say what we mean!  I know I don’t ask out right.  I hint and cross my fingers that he will pick up on a cue, because it's more romantic.  But, Oh dear God burn my macaroons and fill my shoes with puppy poo, he may NEVER get it!  I may die old and alone, and out of batteries, because I am waiting for him to interpret my subtext.  So, Mother, I am going to start asking for what I want.

For some, learning to ask and diving in, can get easier with age—I hope so for me; for some it gets more difficult, due to age-related FEAR.   Let’s face it, at 30+ we’ve heard the horror stories: the so-and-so or whoever being raked over the divorce court coals; the spouse who turns into Mr. Hyde; the philanders, the cheats, the home-wreckers, the traitors, the pool boys … all these ghouls described with relish around the bar, or café, or camp fire, to inspire caution and fear.  But it’s a Catch 22 isn’t it?  At a time when you really biologically need to be giving it all, pulling those oars with all the strength you can muster to track down that ship on the horizon, you stop rowing.  Because wouldn’t it be awful if you tried and failed?  Wouldn’t it be tragic if you didn’t catch up with the boat and everyone saw you miss it?  Fear is paralyzing.  It's better to look cool, right?

Wrong!  I am casting aside fear *wipes hands* *throws over shoulder.* I'm blocking my ears to the horror stories *la la la, I can't hear you* and I’m making my own story.  And there will be great career advances, adventures and, I am sure, miscommunications in between.  However, if I can try to be direct, forget the fear, and just keep my eyes wide, my heart open, my intentions honest and efforts renewable, maybe my little row boat will eventually catch up.  And when it does, maybe it won't be such a puzzle, maybe every piece will fall into place, exactly as it should.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Steam Trunk Punked: In which I lose my shit.

Sometimes, it is a challenge to keep perspective.  When an almighty ton of steaming poo falls from the sky and lands splat on your new expensive hairdo, dry-clean-only outfit and suede shoes, it’s sometimes hard to breathe deeply, shrug shoulders and say, “well, I’m a blessed!  It could have been diarrhea!”

 When my world is being bombarded by a shit storm, there’s little consolation in the fact that things could indeed be worse.  Yes, there is "after-the-fact-reframe," that I can do, I've got it down; but I'm talking "in-the-moment-perspective," the nauseating Pollyanna kind, that makes you want to punch old Polly in the throat or shave off her eyebrows, that is a challenge for Eleanor.  If you are like me, there are three common reactions to such a maelstorm: cry, weep, make a fuss; erect a literal or figurative umbrella and sally forth; or ball up the fistfuls of faeces and lob them at whoever is in range, like a mutant McEnroe Dung beetle.  On Tuesday, dear Reader, I did all three.  It was truly a shituation.

The house I write from is largely empty.  I feel rather smugly Dickensian/Manhattan Minimal here, typing cross-legged on the honeyed floor boards, imagining the pieces that will create my home.   I have been pouring over the thick, glossy pages of a particular furniture catalogue, cutting, pasting and sticky-noting—Martha Stewart would be proud.  I have spent hours online drooling at Steampunk light switch plates, door knobs, chandeliers and granite.  Anything granite.  I love granite!  And leather.   I have been enjoying the schizophrenia of my new Interior Decorator personality, even if my bank account hasn’t!  But piffle, says I, life is short, and this is my haven, my shelter, my sanctuary, my palace, my outward expression of me!  I can take my time and design it exactly as I choose!

I reasoned, if I were a chef, I would have a state of the art cooker, oven and mixer thingies; if I were a photographer, I would have cameras, and lighting and those strange white hexagons; so, ergo, as a writer, I should have an amazing, welcoming, “Eleanor, come sit at me and write great works” desk.  And thus it was, I splurged.  I shouldn’t have, but I did.  I did it up.  I bought it, dear Reader!  The study I had been lusting after, like the psycho at the shower curtain!  The over-sized vintage steamer trunk ingeniously configured to "open Sesame" into an amazing study!

Never has this reasonable thirty-something with excitable tendencies been THIS wired to receive a package.  This was more exciting than Mum finally agreeing to buy me a bra even though I had nothing to fill it; than when Dad told us at the airport that we weren’t collecting his friend we all despised, but were flying off to Disney World; greater even than collecting my first free car at the dealership; it tasted sweet, this overwhelming appetite of anticipation.

Then D- Day came.  Tuesday 18th, 07:00hours.
There are six large windows in my bedroom.  As I came to, drifting from unremembered dreams, I first heard the drum, then saw the rain as it lashed against the panes.  It was rather like waking to find Self going through a car wash.  

"Is it raining?  I hadn't noticed."
In novels and in movies, storms usually mean imminent doom—unless Ryan Gosling/other Hollywood Chunk of Muscle is standing with his shirt off, then it indicates a torrent of delightfully satisfying, non-messy sex is about to unspool.   I cast my eyes to the vacant pillow beside me, I should have realized that this meant I was in for the former, not the latter.

I must have run to my front door at least five times that morning, fancying I could hear a truck over the surround sound of the rain.  I brewed a pot of coffee and tried to do adult things to balance out my childish anticipation.  Finally, a truck hummed from somewhere down the street.  I popped out of the door and stood on sentury, my Meerkat curiosity at full neck-extension.
“You Eleanor?”  The ruddy-faced boy asked, wiping the rain, (or sweat), from his forehead.
“Yes!  You must be Rob!”  (The shipping man on the phone had told me to expect “Rob.”)  This boy was not, in fact, Rob.  He did not correct me however, so I proceeded to call him Rob for the course of the next HOUR OF HELL.
“It’s big!”  He said, promisingly.
“Is it?  I’m excited.”  (Insert your own joke here.  I’m a trying to regain some essence of maturity.)

I sprang over the puddles, gamboling down the street, running the undefeatable gauntlet of rain, to the back of the still-growling truck.  There it was!  My, my, it was a behemoth of a box: standing sturdily over 6 foot and weighing in at 300lb, it was a monument of might, unfathomable like the Pyramids, or Stonehenge, or Justin Bieber. 
“Yeah, it’s big,” said Non-Rob.

Now, I fear I must get a little technical here.  Brace yourself!  The giant package of my dreams, had been transported on a wooden pallet. Non-Rob had inserted metal fork-lift forkies into the underbelly of the pallet, however, in some unfortunate, almost fatal, shift, one of the wheels of my steamer trunk had come through its cardboard protection and wedged itself between the edge of the pallet and the forks of the lifty thing.  (I told you this was technical.)

Trouble was, Non-Rob could not lift my box.  It was so wide, he could not reach his arms all the way around.  Also, had I mentioned, it was raining?  Unlike Andie McDowell, I DID notice the TORRENTIAL deluge of water from the Scranton skies.  Every time Non-Rob tried to grip, his big hands slipped ineffectively from the package.

I spoke up.
“Rob,” I said, “I really think maybe you should wheel the box back in the truck and deliver it another day.  One without rain.  When you can have someone who won’t be squashed like a small, wet mammal under its hefty tonnage.”
“Can’t do that.  It’s stuck.  I can’t get it back in the truck.  We have to get it off or just wait in the rain all day.”
“Well… let’s phone for help!  Surely someone at Unmentionable-Shipping-Firm-Who-Proved-to-be-UTTERLY-Useless might be able to assist?”

So we called.  As Non-Rob stood, readjusting his sneaker grip on the slick tail-gate, holding the box on the edge, I called his boss.  I explained the shituation.  Did I mention the firm was UTTERLY USELESS?  Uh huh, I was told that, no, he couldn’t send anyone else out to help.   The company was located 5 minutes from my house, but no one was available.

I am 115lbs soaking wet.   Non-Rob lowered the tail-lift once again and the 300lb box teatered above me.  I braced all my weight against it to keep it upright. 
“Okay, let’s switch.”  He said, and he slipped down from the back of the truck, to exchange places with me.  “Press that down button just a bit.”  (Question: when you are getting something delivered, does one usually become a temporary, non-paid, potentially-endangered member of the moving team?  No, I thought not.  Carry on.)

Oh yes. Non-Rob sent me his x-rays.
It lowered jerkily, but Non-Rob managed to keep the box steady, until it hit the tarmac and the wheels, it's weight and gravity unleashed the human-bulldozer from the pallet.  I squealed.  Non-Rob gasped and caught it.  In hind sight, I believe this was the point he broke his thumb.

You might think, the mission had been accomplished, dear Reader.  Oh no.  Now we had to wheel the box uphill.  The wet cardboard offered no grip, so Non-Rob unsheathed the trunk, exposing it’s plastic saran wrapped inner layer of protection.  When he did this, I noticed there was a gaping hole in the back of the packing.  A hole that had gone through the cardboard, and the plastic, and—LORD NO!—the cigar brown leather, ripping it apart like a knife through flesh.  My eyes grew larger with tears, but I bit my lip, this was neither the time nor the place to blub; I forced up my emotional umbrella and forged on, ploughing ever further into the turd tornado that was about to hit.
My trunk, stabbed in the back.

Non-Rob inserted the beaten up dolly under the trunk, and heaved as he pulled it up the steep gradient.  I weaved around, guarding the trunk like a parent with newly-bike-riding child.  At my front doorstep, the friendly Mortgage Insurance Agent who had made an appointment to meet me, had arrived.  Oh, it was like some awful reality TV set up.  I seriously wondered if there were hidden cameras and some MTV-typee in long shorts to jump in my face and yell, "You've been punked!"

 “Hi!”  I wailed from somewhere underneath the box, ushering its progress up the hill, “I’m Eleanor.  You must be Tom.  The delivery has taken a bit longer than we thought.”
“Can I help you?”  Thank God, I thought.

I wafted around ineffectively placing cardboard on the steps to protect the trunk; I brought out towels to dry the leather and aid their grip.  But, as Non-Rob and Real-Tom heaved the trunk up the stone steps to my front door, the mighty immovable weight falling to further right-angle Non-Rob’s thumb, the soft brown leather grated against the edge of each step.   I urgently indicated the need for care, but the weight of the load in the slipping handholds was clearly all that registered on their red-faces.  There was nothing I could say.  I winced as, tripping, they kicked the cardboard away, the unprotective saran wrap was ripped asunder and the leather was carved up by unforgiving stone.  I screamed silently as the object of my desire was mutilated.

They unscrewed the screen door to squeeze the trunk through, pushing and grinding, grunting and sighing.  With the trunk at an angle through the door, Non-Rob unshouldered it and it bounced to my hardwood floors with a stomach-stabbing thunder.

I carefully undressed the trunk, removing the ghostly wisps of remaining wrap, like bandages around a burn victim.  I assessed the damage: gouges, scars, open wounds.  My eyes refilled, I breathed deeply and sucked them back, still having two strangers standing around.  

It wasn’t until I was alone, that I touched the slashed leather and the rage that I had so carefully, Britishly back-burnered, boiled.  I called the shipping company and let rip with my inner McEnroe.

My telephonic tantrum was not satisfying.  At the end of the tsunami, my one-of-a-kind piece was still damaged.  You can offer to patch it up all you like, but it is still scarred.

I wish I could end telling you that I found the strength of character to laugh it off and be grateful for something, like that fact I wasn’t dead, but I didn't actually want perspective.  I wanted my moment of thrashing and hurling like a toddler (and, perhaps for some adored Chunk of Muscle to wrap his arms around me, as Hollywood rain dictates). So thanks for reading and letting me fling some shit.  I feel better now, dear Reader.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Skydiving without a Pilot; Free falling with my Hero.

NB: or Pilot-imposed.

This blog was supposed to be about balling up ones fears, igniting them with courage and taking a leap of faith, or more literally, hurling self into the sky from a perfectly good aeroplane, with just a sheet of silk and a couple of ropes.

Supposed to be.

I had imagined that I would wax lyrical about white knuckles, thundering heartbeats, frosty air at 14,000 feet gnawing up my nostrils, a colon spastically writhing like an unmanned hose; then, the rush as I leapt with a 200lb man attached to my back, the facelift of the 'g' force making my skin rubber and cartoonish as I fell through the sky at 130 mph, the scrabble to pull the cord and *relief* as I sail through the sky, surfing the currents and enjoying the silence of no mobile phone, no cars, no computer hums, cat calls or door slams, and the reassuring contentment of knowing that, yes, I did not wimp out, and, YES! I did not pee myself! 

In my mind, it was James Bond meets Point Break, in figure-fitting pink and fuchsia.  I'd be Secret Agent Barbie McGee!  

But no, dear Reader.  I cannot talk to you of such things, because the plane never left the ground. 

Schuey (you’ll recall, he is my running partner and general adrenalin-junkie-at-arms, see: and I have been planning a tandem jump for as long as we’ve known each other.  On our ill-fated, yet legendary, first date –his friends shanghai-ed our dinner and suggested we all go to a strip club; it seemed churlish and prudish to refuse, and also, for a writer, was a scene pregnant with potential, so I assented—ever since then, we have discussed skydiving with childish enthusiasm.   

The first date really set the tone for the next two years, as we quickly discovered that we enjoyed adventures together like best friends, not as partners. 

So, our skydiving adventure was not just an ad hoc whim, there were two years of skyward fantasies whirring around the walnut cluster of my brain.  Before that, there was Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves free falling through my dreams and waking me up with a rousing recital of

 “I’m a fucking F.B.I agent!”

“I know.  Ain’t it wild!”

Skydiving was clearly for the coolest of the cool.

Back further, there was my Welsh grandfather, Taid as we called him.  Taid was a flyer, a pilot, a hoot, a ham, a hero.   Maybe that sounds corny and boastful, I don't care, I’m proud of it.   My Taid, Evan Gwyn Jones, was, in fact, a Wing Commander in the RAF, he was awarded the DFC and the AFC--yes, both, a rare honour--in addition to numerous other shiny medals and ribbons.  He flew Wellingtons and Mosquitoes.  He was selected for the 8 Group Pathfinders, the elite squadron of Bomber Command, leading bombing raids over Dresden, Cologne and Berlin, and he completed 89 operations--that's almost three tours of ops.  He was mentioned in Dispatches to the King.  He had parachuted from a burning plane, which made him far cooler than Keanu or Patrick could ever be.  I adored my Taid.
He was THAT brilliant they made special stamps to commemorate the First 1000 Bomber Raid.  That's my Taid's signature.  ;)

In single digits I was largely regarded as loud and obnoxious—please don’t say, “What’s changed?”—and I was hushed when I asked at excited-only-dogs-can-hear-you decibels,

“Taid, what is that one for?”

I touched the small gold caterpillar with ruby eyes, pinned to his weighted lapel—I probably touched it with sticky fingers—I recall I was always a sticky child--like human fly-paper.  

There, in the Mess, as the adults swayed with their naughty little drinkies and told war stories, Taid took my sticky paws in his big hands, twirled me around, and bundled me on to his lap.  Whilst the adult world circled doing their adult things, Taid explained each shiny gong to me.  Every humble explanation focused on the crew and the mission, never about the pilot, and all ended with a punch line, pulling up the story at the last minute before in descended into a blaze of loss, as all war stories inevitable did for one side or the other.
Irvin Caterpillar Club Pin

“The caterpillar, Enna bach,” he explained, “is from bailing out.  You know, a pilot hates to ditch, but sometimes you have to, love.”

“You had to parachute out of your aeroplane?”

“Oh yes.  This one is for ejecting over land.  That's what the ruby eyes mean, see?”


And I recall being so impressed, because at that age you think your grandparents must have been born in the dark ages and however did they manage the wonders of aeronautic engineering when surely, surely they didn’t even have electricity or fire!

Of course the conversation, faded over a quarter of a century or more, is not verbatim, but it was something like that.  He would have called me “Enna,” or “bach” or both.  For the non-Welshies, “bach” is not a reference to a German composer of the Baroque period—I had the musical ability and aspirations of a toe-nail clipping so Taid would hardly have coined that as my monicker—but it is a Welsh term of endearment, "small," used as we'd soften sentences with “love” or “pet.”  He definitely held my hand and I would have grabbed his thumb, because I always did.

It is funny the microscope of a child.  I saw, traced and saved the image of his hands.  It is a slide I can see clearly even now: his big, capable hands that had flown great metal machines and then, in peace time, tested aircraft;  hands that had, in retirement, carved wooden dressers, lamps and tables; that had created minute feather fascinators, to attract and lure salmon and trout; these warm, scarred hands, with rounded nail beds, sometimes red or purple or black with a hammer-whack, always quick to hand me a Polo mint or a pound to run to Woolies for some toffees for us to share, “But shhh!  Don’t tell Gran!”

He didn't tell me the blanks that my father would fill in later: that his Wellington had been shot down and all navigation had been ruined; that the crew bailed and Taid's parachute came down into some trees--an unfortunate crash landing for his cranium; that with conscussion and cracked skull he was marched through the fields to the police station by a scared Yorkshire farmer who had never heard a Welsh accent before, and thought he must be German.  A fortuitous happenstance for Taid, as the Police treated him to a grand spread of eggs and bacon, bread and butter!  Taid always did like his breakfasts, his hot, stewed, sweet tea and his cheese and onion sandwiches!

I used to think of him everyday, but I have been alive longer without him than with him now, so memories have clouded or dissipated.  I thought of him all morning though, as I went to my non-jump jump.  Silent tears trickled and plinked on my keyboard as I recalled his caterpillar and as I wrote of that memory to my facebook friends.  His wickedly delighted EGJ smile broke out over my face as I saw the aeroplane that was to take us up.  Schuey and I cracked jokes amid the tense waiting room, and I thought, yup, that’s what I imagine Taid would do before going up: he'd tell a joke, recite a poem, sing a song--probably a fairly lewd one!  I thought of the time he and my dad put fart-smell pellets in my Uncle Teg's cigarettes and how they laughed like school boys as they watched us all sniff, crease brows, exchange glances and shift away from the unpleasant stench.  

I wasn’t scared as I watched the skydiving video, emphasizing the risks involved.  I was not concerned as I signed my waiver, understanding that skydiving could result in injury or death, and my life insurance premium would never be the same again.  I was high, sky-high, thinking that I would be doing something that my Taid had done.  The difference being, I know he would have turned to me and said, “But Enna bach, why would you jump from a perfectly good plane?”

So, as my instructor hung up his cell phone for the last time, shrugged his shoulders and admitted that he couldn’t find a pilot to take us up, I couldn’t be that upset.  Our pilot was missing, but my pilot, my Taid, I had got to spend all day thinking of.  I had soared through the clouds in my brain to see him again, his toothy grin as he’d scrunch up his nose and make rabbit ears behind some unsuspecting friend.   The day wasn’t lost at all.  It was found.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Run, Retard, Run! In which I discover, I am a RUNNER!

If it weren’t for my complete lack of athleticism, I could have been an Olympian. 

Before you cough up your cornflakes, I should qualify that, shouldn’t I?  I think I had the attributes to make an Olympian: I can get up ridiculously early in the morning; I can eat quantities of carbs, especially bananas and pasta; I like being independent; I like being on a team; I am tall (ish); I work hard; I like winning; I’m bendy; but mostly, I really like spandex!

Surely, surely these credentials should secure me some kind of sporting plaudits?

Nope.  None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Diddly.  For I was not blessed with one iota of athletic ability, thanks Mum.  The following phrases have, indeed, been coined when discussing my prowess, or lack thereof: “She’s like Bambi on crack;” “She runs like a demented ostrich;” “Is she blind?”  “Is she deaf?”  “Is she just retarded?” 


It is true.  My legs for their length, lack all co-ordination, and rather than pumping in synchrony like well-oiled pistons, they tend to get tangled, as if some invisible Wile E. Coyote (Genius) has knotted my shoelaces.  MEEP MEEP…Arghhhhh… Oh the grazed knees!

At school, my cheerful mal-co-ordination was legendary.  Yes, you could rely on me not run fast enough into that space, or catch, or hand-off the baton without dropping it, but shit, I had lungs and would shout plays or calls with little stealth, but bags of enthusiasm!
“No!  No!  Not to me, to her!  Her!  No, the other one!”

The cheer was all a front, of course.  Really, I was cringing and berating myself for lacking the skill I wish I had.  Really, the broad smile was a deranged mask to hide the fact I desperately didn’t want to be picked last.  I  hoped my smile was more appealing to the Team Captains than the other miserable Mal-co's, directing their Droopy stares to the frost-bitten earth.  I was messy, but boy was I eager, like a Labrador puppy. 

In netball—the polite British version of basketball—I was consistent in my role as “WD".  This did not stand for “Wing Defense” as most normal teams would boast on their starting line up, but “WD—Weird Distraction.”  My tactics were these: run around the court windmilling my arms in the hopes they would get in the way of a ball; yell like a banshee with Tourette's; confuse the fuck out of the opposition.  It worked.  Until once my nose got in the way.  Damn.  The demented WD was felled like she’d been shot.  “Man down, Man down!”

Replaying this in my head, I am imagining Will Ferrell playing me right now.  Just with his hair in bunches, and wearing scratchy, acrylic, green athletics pants (think baggy hotpants) and matching hunter-green knee socks.  Is that weird?  

Anyhoo, needless to say, I did not make it to University on a sporting scholarship.   I did make it to the swimming and diving team, and still have my bronze medal for diving—so proud-- but I think that was more to do with the bendy, spandex thing and lesbian judges.

So, imagine my surprise, dear Reader, when this summer, a good friend--let's call him "Schuey"--challenged me to get fit with him. 
“You mean…like…activity?  Like sweating?  For fun?”
“Yes.  I want to get in shape!”  He said with his own, undeniable puppy-like enthusiasm.
“Hmm… well I have worried that my bum might have J Lo-ed a smidge.”
“Oh yeah." He replied just a fraction too quickly,"your ass certainly isn’t as toned as it was two years ago…”  STOP. THE. TALK.

Now, the idea of…*gulp*… running, was one I viewed with wide-eyed wonder—like fat-free crème brulee; a sale sign in the window of Restoration Hardware; Fosse-choreographed, fishnet-wearing unicorns—and although I thought my Flo Jo-transformation impossible, there was a distinct allure.  Also, I had read tweets by, and read articles about, my comrade in wordsmithery, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner, who does insane things like… triathalons!  TRI!  That’s THREE, three athletic disciplines.  She is three times as athletic as me!  And, to compound the writer-runner attraction, one of my favourite agents, Stephany Evans, President of Fine Print Literary Agency, positive lit-up when discussing her passion for running!  She had never run.  Never!  Then a memoir about a runner landed on her desk and--Holy lightning bolt of inspiration-- she picks up and starts running.  She’s now running marathons!  MARATHONS, I tells ya!    

So… knowing this, wanting to join this club, be chosen for this team, seeking to prove something to Self and to my “ass,” made me get out of bed early one June morning, wipe the inaction from my eyes and face bright light and tarmac!

The first run was not pretty.   A runner friend joined Schuey and me to show us the trail.  Don’t ask me what I was thinking when I invited her.   Apparently, I am a sadist and enjoy complete humiliation.  (I’m not and I don’t.)  It was like asking a Williams’ sister if she fancied a quick friendly game of tennis.   Good grief.  My runner friend is toned, tanned, blonde and Argentinian.  Actually, I am pretty sure she is a robot.  She doesn’t sweat or breathe hard.  (I have yet to see if she has green blood, but I wouldn’t be surprised.) In short, she is amazing.

I barely made it a quarter of a mile before I was panting like an asthmatic crank caller.  I was ready to hit the ground, roll and pretend I had twisted my ankle.  But there it was, the bottom line: Jennifer Weiner runs, Stephany Evans runs, and Eleanor, “your ass certainly isn’t as toned as it was…”  so I struggled on, gasping for breath and thudding one foot down in front of the other.  As the Argentine effortlessly gazelled her way up the mountainous gradient, I shuffled pathetically behind, watching her stride further and further into the distance.  Back at the parking lot, I fell to my knees—not in a Pope way, more of an imminent death-way-- and I felt mortified.

The next day, sans Blonde Argentine, we ran again, this time pushing a bit further before we slowed to a walk.  It was hell.  Especially that fucking hill!  My personal Everest!   Every snatched breath was a punch to the lungs.

The first time we made it up the hill without stopping I thought I would vomit all over some innocent bystanding camper.  My heave was actually met with Schuey turning towards me--delightful broad beam plastered across his face—holding his hand up to high-five me.  We’d breached the hill!  We’d done it in one.  The rising bile was overtaken with a sense of pride, accomplishment and relief.

After a couple of weeks, we were running the entire track, there and back, uphill, down dale, rain or shine; sprinting the last bend into the car park, feeling the rush of blood to the head as I bent over to catch my breath, enjoying the pounding of my heart in my ears, throat, wrists.  I felt great.

Except for a shooting pain in my hip.

I caught up with girlfriends over brunch and told them of my new regime and gammy leg.  They got to the root of my problem easily.
“What kind of sneakers are you running in?”
“Oh, they’re good ones,” I replied loudly, just as our server arrived behind my shoulder, “I have those tone-up-your-butt ones.  Ha ha!  I have up-your-butt-shoes!”
“Eggs Benedict, Madam?”

So I took Self to a local Running Store and over one hundred smackeroos later, I was the proud owner of a pair of proper bona fide, serious running shoes.  They were light!  They were thin!  They were purple!

The next morning, I woke bright and early.  Schuey was away on work, so the morning run would be just me, the tarmac and my beautiful new shoes.  A month earlier, I probably would have used his absence as an excuse to get on with something else, but now I had the shoes!  The shoes!  So I drove to Lake Scranton, sneaks still in their box, burning a hole in my passenger seat, and branding my feet with athletic desire.

I opened the lid of the cardboard box.

I carefully folded back the white bedding of tissue paper.  

I laced them up, and I ran.  

Without stopping.

 3.5 miles in just over 30 minutes. 

As I ran up the steps to the lake overlook—hearing the Rocky soundtrack in my brain—I was slick with sweat, elated with effort and thirsty for more.

So when my writing friend started speaking of the 10 mile Broad St Run in Philadelphia, I tossed back my last glug of chardonnay and said, 
“Meh, I can do that.”  
And so it was…

I'm the girl who has always had Olympic Desire, but little Olympic Talent, and I’m doing it.  I won’t be the fastest, strongest, or prettiest, but it is fun to defy expectations, particularly when they are your own.