october, 2004

Tue Oct 5 23:23:18 EDT 2004

It's finally turned cold enough. Not freezing, nowhere near; not even decent sweater weather. But chilly enough to leave the windows open (the cold-blooded, up-bundling Claire off digging for arrowheads in the middle of Pennsylvania as usual, and not around to shiver loudly and pointedly until the heat goes on), and to require slippers when not having tea and molasses cookies or dousing black bean soup with Louisiana hot sauce left over from my first marathon. Cool enough that this blasé Northerner didn't even shed the hoodie, a Lodge-Two gank from Sarah-Kate three years ago and still providing good mileage, on her walk to work in the morning; cool enough that the door, usually open to invite what summer breezes deign, was shut against the perceived chill in African this evening. Perhaps it was the resultant calefaction in the studio that led to the elevated energy level of the class -- arms flailing; drums pounding; sweat dripping. Stepping outside into the eight o'clock brisk air was welcoming.

And as I did, a beautiful black man who'd been watching our class (one of two white girls tonight, I'd been fumbling steps as he'd looked on) commented on my nascent, porpentinish dreds. I tell him they're new; he says, if I really want them, they'll work. Prophecy imparted with the wisdom of a guru, even though he himself is close-shaven.

Downtown DC hadn't reacted much this morning or last -- more stares than usual, but there are as many aggressively-spiked heads on K Street as there are people with pink hair -- but the Juice Joint guy said I looked like the sun, and I suppose I did, with an orange scarf folding back a hedgehog's worth of blond-tipped quills, and an orange shirt. (Sunglasses, the status-symbol iPod earbuds and telltale white cord half-visible under the orange scarf, and newly dredded, I felt like the badassest software developer sauntering into work, my hair backlit and aglow in the door of 1016.)

Then, switching lines at Fort Totten, a black woman with thin dreds starts speaking to me. I take the Basement Jaxx out of my ears (the high-energy beats sustaining the corybantic fever pitch from the end of class), ask what she said. Even two-eared, it takes me a minute of mental replay to process: "Are you locking?" Yes, I am, pleased that she's noticed and doesn't assume, like the white population seems to have downtown, that it's just temporary spikes. Her friend touches the waxy points; she says hers used to look like mine when she started.

And yet again, as the top of the escalator at Shaw-Howard folds into itself and two black men in peacoats (cold enough for coats!) and carrying coffees cross my path orthogonally, one of them says, very sincerely, "I like your hair. Very unique." I parry; he insists. These encounters leave me as happy as a successful exchange in German used to -- a cultural more has been successfully communicated and understood. When I first announced my intention to do this, Girish snarkily reminded me of my skin color. While the ever-intensifying AIDS marathon singlet tan and running shorts (a practice twenty-six miles Saturday morning, and into afternoon!) hasn't changed that much, I'm reminded that it's not an obstacle. Now the challenge will be five more days of not being able to shampoo it ...

Fri Oct 15 12:18:25 EDT 2004

Dreamed last night I got a piano. A brown Yamaha baby grand, with legs that screwed on (I suppose they all do, though). It came in boxes, which were just sitting in a hallway, until movers started unpacking them and I saw the gleam of twelve-note iterations of the white and black tastatur between pieces of cardboard. It was somehow from my parents, and in my happiness, I forgot to thank them properly. Thanks, Mom & Dad, for my piano dream!

It's easily traceable, this one: yesterday, I'd been talking with Evelyne about music lessons for her girls. Violin both. A Russian magister who seemed unnecessarily pedantic. I recounted my experiences in MCC (now (heretically!) merged with boychoir into the MYC); advocated singing. Briefly entertained the idea of me giving the kids basic music lessons; realized I'd need a piano.

Mm, a piano. Access to one has been sporadic at best since graduation. So easy to take for granted the upright in your family's house, on which my mom used to play the "Mad Mama Song," trying not to annoy her mother; the trapezoidal honeycomb banks of practice rooms at the orange UW Humanities building, full of little black Yamahas, rooms in which I would practice my big-kid orchestra music; the one row of north-facing rooms at Lang (trying to recall which direction they overlooked the Crum, I realize that I wasn't there in daylight hours enough to know (hence the Midnight Quintett), and am reduced to deduction about the amount of afternoon sunlight on the Steinway downstairs). Pianos on which to noodle, if not actually practice; try out a chorale or Rachmaninoff étude; help Helaine identify keys she could barely see.

The piano's being from my both of my parents -- strange, as they've been divorced since when I was in early middle school -- I'm sure stems from my my new birthday iPod. I've been carrying it around in an ankle sock (all the fancy cases are smelly and ugly, and obscure its sexy Apple modernism), ear buds barely nestled in my ears (I think my pinnae must be differently molded than most's), enjoying the crash of Daft Punk in the afternoons; Basement Jaxx after dance; Sunday-morning mandolinning of Blue Merle or trailing Firebird coda segueing into Yes on my walk to work. (Added plus: If the men in Logan Circle are commenting on my dreds, I can't hear them for the music.) All of Mahler's oeuvre is in my pocket (Jesus, how cool).

I didn't envision myself, initially, as one who would walk through the streets begadgeted with little white wires, drowning out ambient noise with loud techno. After the first few days of neophitic fumbling and self-consciousness about the sock, I walked into Whole Paycheck (as Tony calls it) with Piazzolla in my ears. Suddenly, the post-work, stressful produce jostling became a tango. A bandoneón emanates from behind the chick peas. A bass walks me down the frozen aisles.

A piano in my apartment would be lovely. Not that I can play it, as Mr. Barone can tell you, but for learning. For noodling. For arranging or rearranging quartets; for teaching music to six-year-olds.

Rehearsal last night with Pablo, the passionate violist who coaxed some life out of even the Jalousie arrangement we'd been butchering, and waded into the Tango Ballet with his sleeves rolled up. Me playing off scores or spare parts -- somehow I'd forgotten my music at home, despite having checked before jumping on the bus up to Winston's. How I wish for more music. And yes, this scratches the itch: Wednesday at Phaser's smoky studio, my right ear in the 'phones and the left one out, to hear both the group's mix and my viola's own sound, we broke into Por Una Cabeza, then, following over-the-headset dictations, distorted and broke it down. Boris later mixed it with the seagull harmonics and ponticello tremolos we'd been doing earlier; God knows what a rock band wants with a track that sounds like four día-de-los-muertes skeletons playing tango in an abandoned Spanish-mission cathedral in Argentina, with birds swooping through the rafters.

It's like a drug: I forgot about music for months on end, and then would hear a Bach chorale and plunge into poignant morosity, only to let the urge slip a week later. Now that I get my fix near-daily, I need more.

But there are aspects I do not want. Willingly shanghaied into a rehearsal-and-concert gig with a community to orchestra whose director I could conceivably owe a favor, I remember the pain of middle-school strings class, of high school sawings on rentals under a well-intentioned yet burnt-out teacher's baton. I'm the only viola. Rehearsal is that much more painful when I return to a level I thought I left for good eight years ago, and while the players have aged, their ability hasn't come with. And then Annaliese emails me out of the high-school, WYSO ether on Sunday, with news from Madison that she's disillusioned, and would rather pour coffee than strive for virtuosic perfection. Of all people!

I know it's theoretically possible to do music professionally and not become disillusioned, to not hate it. Some do: Tony Barone; Diedre; a handful of nasty Italian septuagenarian (maybe by now octogenarian) violists named Joe. But it seems a fine balance between the community orchestras of the world and Annaliese's flagging spirits. And yet, as I dream about pianos delivered to my doorstep, nor am I beset by apathy.

Unclear (as Emily would have said this summer). Inconclusive. I don't know what I want -- I borrowed a GRE book from Joanne the other day (not as exciting as it should have been because I knew all but five of the vocabulary words); I dream of conservatories but spend my spare time ranting about Bush and volunteering for the DNC. But in the meantime, I have all of Mahler in a sock in my pocket.

Tue Oct 26 16:39:44 EDT 2004

I never suspected I was the type to fall prey to complacency. And yet here I am, IMming to Gabe this morning that my life is complete because I have a renewed subscription to the New York Times (been bringing my tahini-miso-tofu bagel concoction into work, buying a three-times-more-expensive-than-the-Post (but three-times-better!) paper on the way in), six new striped socks (courtesy of a sock attack), Assam, tamari almonds, and carrots. A job to do; a marathon to run; a life to slip by.

Note the paucity of recent posts. I write when I have something to think about; a context with which to frame my world. Certainly, the one-fucking-week-from-today election is a contender for Most Important Thing Happening On The Planet, and is a context for just about everything -- I remember, after the election of 2000, noticing the odometer on my car change over to 117,000, and thinking that that was the first non-election-related number I'd seen in days. Weeks, even. If I was scared about Gore v. Bush, there's even more at stake in this election. I'm going to Pennsylvania to do Get Out The Vote work with ACT for e-day; where are you going? I think Kerry can take this, but he needs every effort of every person remotely concerned about the state of health care / social security / the supreme court / women's rights / gay rights / the deficit / the world. I'm not kidding.

But this election and the issues therein, fundamental and all-important as they may be, are not what gets me up in the morning. They drive me into a blind rage directed against the nameless, yet-undecided voter (how?! you've had four years to decide!) against which my only consolation is the fact that they usually break 2:1 for the challenger at this point. But numbing anger is not a useful feeling, nor one I want to incorporate in my life. Where the moments of beauty; where the new experiences; where the pleasures greater than the paper and a pot of tea?

I see now how it is people can descend into a monotony of routine: work, run, read, socialize, rehearse. The job, while ever Interesting Enough, will not keep my mind engaged over the long term. The marathons, while great for the legs if hard on the knees, do not impart a sense of purpose. The reading -- of late, with the latest iteration of the Swat Alumni Bookclub, doing Arab novels this year -- is lovely escapism, but still escapism. A bottle of wine with Jaime, or multiple bottles with five Dudes at Two Amys, celebrating annual gluttony (and Wayne's birthday), won't provide fodder past a certain point. And the music -- well, that's a whole nother post. (That could keep me happy, but not at its current level.)

Emily says, move to California. On what in my life do I put a premium now? Nothing ties me here, and I don't even remotely love the city. Is my purpose to sink into numb, salaried comfort in a far-from-ideal city in which i have no intention of ever settling? Or to have experiences, to go to California (to which I've still never been!) while I'm young, unattached, and mobile? I begin to see why my grandmother travelled well into her eighties ...

Sun Oct 31 18:53:44 EST 2004

aids marathon jack-o-lantern I just ran my second marathon. This one was harder than the first -- then, being respectful of my knees, I stayed at the 13:30 pace with 3:1 run/walk splits after mile ten, having rejected offers of beer along the New Orleans course. I finished strong, my watch reading 5:45, my official score just under six.

This time -- what goeth before the fall? everybody, now: -- I was cocky. Sure of my ability to run 26.2 miles and come out walking (having incurred a deep tissue bruise the first time 'round, but then sailing through an easy 26-mile training run a month ago), I pushed myself. Start out slow, I knew. That much was evident from the number of people I'd passed around mile 20 in the first marathon. A thirteen-minute pace at a 3:1 run-to-walk ratio. Then kick it up to 12 minutes, at 4:1, hold it for 10 miles, and bust loose on the last 10K. Walk (well, run) in the park.

me running Turns out they weren't kidding when they talk about a marathon as two races: a twenty-miler, and a ten-kilometer. And boy, those last six miles. Strong, smiling, and deelie-boppered-haired, the first ten miles were over before I even noticed we were out of Rock Creek Park (in which the humidity lifted, and it became apparent it would not be a cool day, as hoped -- but beautifully sunny). I left Tamara and Janet at the Smithsonian, wanting to kick up the pace a minute but with Tamara's knee preventing group cohesion. A deceptively shady run down the other side of Capitol Hill suddenly put me at 11:30 for my next mile, a pace I (due to the screaming crowds, the adrenaline) maintained well into Haines Point, nearing mile 20. Passed Marisa and Cassie, both of whom had broken out ahead before mile ten, and both of whom suffered from it.

But mile 20 was the killer. It's the traditional wall -- marathoners who've been sailing gloriously along up until then will hit some block, mental or physical or both, almost always around there. I'd hit none in New Orleans; today, as Jaime met me with encouragement leading off the peninsula and rounding into the H.O.V. lane of I-395, the cheering throngs and the knowledge that the twenty-mile warm-up was over and the home stretch could begin pushed me over the edge. Like a fingernail snagging on wool, my heart unexpectedly caught in my throat at the collective adrenaline, support, proximity of the finish line. And because it's hard to breathe when you're crying, I hyperventilated a good mile or two further.

me running Leaving Flynn just after exiting the interstate, I was again by myself -- living for the comments about my hair (waxed up, I'm not sure most people realized it wasn't a Halloween costume), wildly bopping silver headband, or the shouting of my name, vynil-mailbox-lettered onto my shirt and written down my left arm. When thousands scream your name (albeit one at a time, it's true), you have little choice but to keep running.

Colin mercifully found me at mile 24, when I was putting up a fight, but struggling. He fell into step next to me and talked my ear off for the next two miles, babbling wonderfully about everything except the remaining course (my legs threatened to give out), food (my stomach shifted uncomfortably), or alcohol (I remembered the small shot of pre-victory Bud I'd had a few miles back). All the while amazed at actually seeing me run this thing, and impressed with the crowds' reaction to my hair and name. After two miles, he peeled away on his bike. Rounding the corner, the 26th and final mile marker came into sight -- and after it, a hill. Only a tenth of a mile, but after 26, 176 yards up an incline ain't trivial. Clapping, yelling, uniformed marines flanking it, I soldiered up to Arlington Cemetary, only to still not be able to see the finish line. Rounded a final corner. Finally, with the last burst of the energy imparted by five gels, bagel, and Clif bar I'd had that day, and the remnants of the previous night's carbo-loading in front of movies and pumpkin-carving, and all but oblivious to the din of the crowd, I sprinted the remaining ten or so meters across the finish line.

me crossing
finish line For some unknown reason (Olivia likened it today to post-partum syndrome), I've broken down into tears an the end of both marathons. Not so the 26-mile training run of a month ago (there I finished grinning, happy but not ecstatic). Sympathetic female marines silently commiserated as I sobbed my way towards someone to take the RFID chip off my shoe, then scanned the crowd for a familiar face. Colin's called my name, and I inexplicably cried into his shoulder for a minute before the adrenaline started to course a little slower.

5:41:11: my official chip time. That's four minutes better than my previous watch time, and 16:10 better than my Mardi Gras chip time. Slower than I'd hoped for, but those last six miles hit me hard. But I finished, finished strong, and finished faster -- my three goals -- and I have a medal to show for it.

(Plans to go up to Philly for get-out-the-vote work have been scrapped until I am able to speak again. In full sentences. At least I can still walk. And now, there are stoops to be sat on, spiked cider to be drunk, toasted pumpkin seeds to be eaten, and kids in costume to be given candy to.)

all this ©nori heikkinen, October 2004

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