Monday, August 20, 2012


Since getting married, I have had the frustrating and painstaking wonderful opportunity to visit the DMV more than a few times.  My kind husband has toughed each of these trips out right along with me, and while sitting in folding chairs, staring at the painted white cement walls, and desperately willing the two very unhappy looking employees to call our number, we came up with a few ideas to make the entire experience more enjoyable.  You're welcome federal government, you're welcome.

1) Turn the entire experience into an episode of Big Brother.  Create alliances.  Vote people out.  The winner never has to come to the DMV again.  The loser has to come back tomorrow.
2) Turn waiting into a bingo game.  Provide door prizes and a fun, flamboyantly gay host.
3) Add a nice, flat screen TV.
4) Turn the waiting room into a mini golf course, complete with windmills and dinosaurs.
5) Make the next person to be helped sing karaoke.  Even better if they're totally awful.
6) Two words.  Open bar.  (Then I'm sure people would be more than happy to let you go ahead of them in line.)
7) Choose the next number out of a hat.  You might be next or in 50 people, but at least you'll be captivated!
8) Provide free coffee and WiFi.
9) Make the employees wear costumes.
10) Bring in puppies.
11) Hire celebrity look-alikes to sit in the chairs in sunglasses and baseball caps so people can gawk and try to discreetly snap photos.
12) Give away a free vacation to every 500th customer.
13) Provide free shaves for the men and manicures for the women.
14) Give the employees some sort of incentive to smile and help as many people as possible each day.
15) Hire Zumba instructors to teach classes in the waiting area.  Not sure whether participating or watching would be more entertaining.
16) Host trivia games complete with music and video clip questions.  Most creative team name gets to skip two spots in line.
17) Allow any person waiting to try to beat the DMV employee in helping a customer.  Anyone who does gets to take home an hour of his or her pay.
18) Allow waiters to place bets on how long everyone in line will take to be helped.  Pay out double if they are missing paperwork or a money order.
19) Screen upcoming movie releases and provide free popcorn.
20) Have twin DMV employees dress alike and regularly switch places.  The first person to notice wins an ice cream sundae.

Any other suggestions??

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Are We There Yet?

I just finished the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed and in it was a quote from Winston Churchill.  It said simply, "Never never never give up."  It stuck such a cord with me that I stopped reading immediately and typed a few words on my Blackberry, fearing that if I dragged out my laptop I might wake my sleeping dog and husband.

The quote gave me an epiphany.  One of the things that I love about marathons is that there is a definite endpoint.  If you finish 26.2 miles, you've finished.  You're a success.  It's done.  If you don't, you failed.  It's over.  Maybe eventually you'll gear up and try again, but that's a different goal and a fresh attempt.

For me, writing (and so many other things in life) can feel like a goal with no endpoint.  There is no definitive number of query letters to send out, no finite number of pages to write or edits to make.  In running I can look at my watch and see how my pace is, or notice sharp pangs of a sore muscle or a cramp, but writing in solitude doesn't give you that kind of feedback.  It's hard to tell whether you're doing well or poorly, whether you're on the right track or the wrong one.

There is no end point in view.  Not in 26.2 miles, or a day, or a month, or a year.  In fact, you could go on writing forever and not be successful.  There is a chance that no one will ever read anything you right, or worse, that your words will never make a single person feel something when they read it.  It doesn't matter what they feel--I think books can be like fortune cookies that way, we get out of them what we choose to get out of them at any given time--it could be relief, or distraction, or inspiration, or validation, or joy, or any number of other things.  As a writer you just want a reader to feel something.  Anything.

It's not just writing.  In normal life, very few things have definite end points--finite spots where you can determine whether you were a success or a failure.  Maybe that's a nice thing, an opportunity to save or fix something until the very end, but mostly I just find it frustrating.  There is no success in a relationship until after someone dies.  Morbid, but otherwise there is always room for a problem, a break up, a divorce.  There is never an end point for success in your career.  There are always more things to aspire to.  What is enough?  A big enough title?  Enough money?  Enough lives improved by your existence?  When are you a good enough person?  When are you healthy enough?  When are you a good enough parent?

Part of life is the drive to be constantly pushing and trying to do and be more.  But when is it enough, even for a minute?  When is it time to celebrate?  To take a breath?  To say, "Oh well, I tried," and move on?

In marathon running, I know the answer.  You pick a race, you train for a few months, and if the date comes and you manage to run 26.2 miles and cross the finish line, then congrats.  You did it.  You get to celebrate.  You can sit in bed for the rest of the day (or heck, the rest of the week) and feel like a brave and strong person.  You were successful.  In life, there seem to be few such milestones.  Sure, there are graduations, weddings, and births, promotions and purchases, awards and accolades, but in adult life these moments seem to be few and far between, and sometimes I can barely resist the urge to scream, "Are we there yet?" from the backseat, or maybe even just, "Am I even on the right road?"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hitting the Trail

Late this morning with heavy clouds hanging in the horizon like a children's mobile, I put my cell phone and keys in a Ziploc bag, loaded Clyde into the car, and headed for the park.  After weeks of being sequestered in the confines of an artificial, air-conditioned office, I needed some freedom and fresh air so badly that I didn't even care if I got poured on.  I wanted out.  I knew Clyde felt the same way, anxiously sniffing my sneakers and bounding down the steps to the back door to make sure I didn't accidentally leave him behind.  The heat and humidity has affected him too--while he usually relishes the freedom of his electric fence, running laps and spying on the neighbors, these days he bats the door to come in mere seconds after we let him out.

When we got to the park I was pleased to see plenty of cars in the dirt parking lot at the base of the mountain trail, hoping they had all seen an encouraging weather forecast that I had missed.  The path is just under 4 miles up a mountain in the woods with a few steep, unforgiving inclines guaranteed to make you pant even if you're just walking.  I was hopeful that the trees would block heat and rain and eager to smell pine needles again.

The second I got out of the car my baggy cotton Gap t-shirt stuck to my skin like a clingy child, wary of our next activity.  The humidity was so thick that it felt like the air was sweating.  I hid my purse under a towel in the back seat, grabbed Clyde, and made my way to the base of the trail.  With one final look at the ominous clouds, we started running.  It took Clyde a little while to catch on, wanting to sniff every plant and pee on every tree.  Slowly he began to meet my stride, pick up his head, and let his tongue flap with such pure joy that any stranger passing us couldn't help but smile.  At the crest of the first major hill, I stopped and put my hands on my knees, my panting just seconds away from full-out wheezing.

We got going again a minute or so later and I felt instantly like I was on vacation.  With no iPod I could hear every bird and breeze, the jingle of Clyde's collars, and the occasional plane flying overhead.  I felt free and happier than I'd been in ages, slowly picking up my pace as I meandered up and down the trail.  I felt like a reckless Plinko chip, bouncing off each rock, quickly changing directions, and landing at the bottom of each hill  feeling like a million bucks.  Every once in a while I would feel a sharp pain biting at my ankle as I hit a rock at the wrong angle, but the pain would recede as quickly as it came.

The amazing thing about trail running is that you are so focused on where to put your feet that you have no time to think about the burning feeling in your chest or the heaviness in your legs.  It's like a rock climbing wall that way, working your brain as well as your mind, forcing out any thoughts other than what you are doing at that very moment.

We finished the loop quickly and as the sun began to peek through the clouds I decided to take a different trail and work our way back up the mountain again.  Clyde was happy to oblige, although I don't think he appreciated the giant spiderweb that he walked into, face first, or my haphazard attempts to get it off of him.

When we finally made our way back to the bottom of the trail an hour later the sun was out completely, warming the already heavy air.  I let Clyde back into the car, opened the sunroof and windows, and turned up the radio.  I looked back at Clyde, his drool leaving wet dots across my black leather seat.  He was smiling, and so was I.