A New Conference + Miscellany

News! Later this month, on June 28, I'll be appearing in a great little mini-conference in my hometown of Belton, Mo. (about half an hour south of Kansas City). I'll give a talk on the five things editors want to see in every manuscript. Then the picture book author (and my best friend) Katy Beebe and I will discuss query letters, particularly the one that led to the publication of her lovely book Brother Hugo and the Bear. And finally, we'll do a first-pages session to round out the morning. Registration is $60, to benefit the Cass County Library Foundation (one of several library systems that made Katy and me the writers and readers we are today). For more information and to register, please click here.

In sad news, last month marked the first month in the nine-year history of this blog where I did not write a single post! Not a one! Part of it can be attributed to this fine fellow:

Mr. Bob Jacob Marley Monohan, who has come to dwell in our apartment and demand my time and attention, cat treats, things to gnaw on (currently a pair of James's cargo shorts that he unwisely left on the couch), etc. Part of it is that I have Twitter to accept all of my random thoughts. Much of it was simply work and life. But I miss writing here. I'm going to try to do a post a week for the rest of the summer, and I hope it will result in good energy all around. 
  • The Great Greene Challenge is still on! Have you gotten your copy yet? It's a great opportunity to support diverse books, an independent bookstore, and fantastic middle-grade in one fell swoop. 
  • As this blog has often served as my running results archive: My sister and I ran the Brooklyn Half-Marathon a couple weeks ago in 2:10. It was my slowest time for a half ever, but I didn't care, because I super-enjoyed running and chatting with her.
  • We have a great new episode of the Narrative Breakdown up here, with Matt Bird and James and I talking character goals and philosophies. Our podcasting has fallen off a bit of late because we lost our sponsor.... If you'd be interested in donating to the cause or sponsoring an episode yourself (a great way to reach a wide audience of writers and other lovers of narrative), please contact us at narrativebreakdown at gmail dot com.  
  • And if you'd like to buy my book SECOND SIGHT, but not through Amazon, please e-mail me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com. I'd be happy to work out alternate means of payment and delivery with you. 
  • Happy summer!

On Being a Real ________

My phone said the temperature was 35 degrees as I was preparing for my run in Prospect Park yesterday, so I dressed in my usual cold-weather running gear:  my thickest running socks, tights, a camisole, a running top that zipped up my neck, a windbreaker, a hat and gloves. About twenty-five minutes into the run, as I was cruising steadily down the lower drive with Beyonce lilting in my ears, a guy ran past me going the other direction, wearing only a stocking cap, a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, and shorts. He had the wiry physique and spindly calves of someone who runs every day, who probably did the New York marathon a few weeks ago and will run it again next year (one of my fondest ambitions), and I thought Wow, that guy's a real runner.

And then I thought:  Dammit, I'm out here running in 35 degree weather too. Am I imaginary? No! I'm a real runner as well!

And this got me thinking about the way we use the word "real" to connote -- what? Physical existence? Identity? Membership in a group? People talk a lot about whether or not they're "real" writers if they haven't been published, or if they don't do it every day, or if they're not writing a specific thing (books = good, blog posts = your existence is doubtful). Fandoms are riven by arguments about whether you can be a "real" fan if you haven't read all the back issues, if you only got into it after the movie, even (noxiously) if you are female. When I saw that guy in the park, I doubted my worth as a runner because I don't have the physical ability to run in shorts at 35 degrees without getting frostbite -- meaning, really, I haven't put in the time to gain that muscle tone and metabolism. But my legs pumping in their tights, my heart pounding in my chest, my hand clutching my water bottle were all as present and powerful as that young man dashing by; and I resolved then and there that I will stop dissing myself about this in future and give myself credit -- that my effort, at the least, was real and deserved respect.

Of course, since I live in children's books, I also thought of this:
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
   "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
   "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
   "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
   "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
   "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
   "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
   "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
I don't think Reality in terms of activities can or should be conferred by someone else:  It's something you claim for yourself, and you become Real partly by claiming it. But I do find the ideas of love, effort, and endurance useful here: that while your activity or fandom is not always easy, and may in fact be quite messy or hurtful, you stay with it because you love it, because it does something good for you or the world or brings something good out of you for the world. And in the end, that love and patience, along with doing the work, are what make you Real. 

(I should add that I don't think what I'm saying holds entirely true for racial/ethnic/sexuality group identities, which have complexities and histories, and costs and benefits, far beyond mere participation in an activity or fandom. Nor is it true for anything that requires a specific accomplishment.... No matter how much I may love cheering at marathons, I can't say I'm a Real marathoner, because I haven't done one! But for activities and fandoms, this is my new standard for Real.)

And if you have all of those qualifications, and then some people tell you you aren't a Real __________, then they are the actual frauds; because part of love is generosity, the desire to see this good thing grow, and they don't have enough love in them to be a Real ________ themselves. Ignore them and go on.

By this measure, I am a Real runner, knitter, cook, yogi, writer, and editor. I do remain objectively not very good at the running, knitting, and yoga. But there is something about merely being Real that makes me feel better connected and more committed to my chosen activities--that I know I belong to them and they to me, that no one can take my Realness away from me. As Beyonce gave way to Bonnie Tyler and the sun set over the lake, the wind died down. My speed picked up. I felt again the exhilaration I discovered years ago, that I can run, that I am a runner, that this is a superpower I carry in my own two feet. And I ran out of the park, as Real as I wanted to be.

A "Breakdown" on Breaking Down a Manuscript; Two Conferences; and a Personal Best

There's a new Narrative Breakdown up at the website -- this time on Revision Techniques (Part I), as James and I talk through a few of my favorite methods of figuring out what you want your book to do, what it IS doing, and how it can be made to do all of that better. If you've read Second Sight or taken any of my classes, these will not be news to you, but it might be fun to listen anyway. (Talking about outlining is everyone's idea of a good time, right? Right? Yay! So you'll enjoy this.)

Registration is now open at the Dakotas SCBWI website for a full Novel Writing Workshop with me, October 4-6 in Custer, South Dakota. This workshop will involve my Plot Master Class on Saturday and my intensive talks on Character and Voice on Sunday, and it's the only conference appearance I'm making the rest of this year, due to my upcoming wedding and honeymoon. Other than this, I do not plan to offer said Master Class again (online or in person) until next spring, so here's your chance if you want to catch it in 2013.

I will also be at LeakyCon in Portland June 27-30, participating in general shenanigans.

Finally, I will admit to using my blog as commonplace book and diary as much as means of transmitting information, and as such, I've made a habit of recording my running times here to track my progress through the years. Now I have a nice new personal best to note:  The Brooklyn Half-Marathon, May 18, 2013, 1:59:28 -- with a personal best 10K in there too, at 56:39. Woo! I never get over the pleasurable strangeness of me, a longtime Enemy of All Things Exercise and In Particular Running, being able to do multiple miles in a single bound. (Or many bounds, really. You get the idea.) 

Egomaniacal Link & News Roundup

Because it's all about me and my books; because I haven't posted in forever; and because ... I'm sorry, my creative/essay/thoughtful-blog-post-writing muscle seems to be taking some time off for the time being. This may have to do with the fact that I've been exercising all my other muscles a lot -- training for some long runs -- and also writing a lot of editorial correspondence; and also sharing a lot of my immediate thoughts on Twitter (meaning, if you follow me there, this post might be quite boring for you. But I'll throw in a joke to make it worth your time). Thank you for stopping by as ever.

(The physical training paid off, I must say:  This morning I ran my fastest 10K ever, in 57:57! I give all credit to Rihanna and this extremely earwormy song.)

Erin Saldin's wonderful The Girls of No Return is reviewed in the New York Times today! Elissa Schappell calls it "A smart, absorbing story about damaged girls realizing how hard it is to connect with other people when you don’t trust anyone," and damn straight. It's racked up another starred review, too, from the BCCB.

Trent Reedy and I recently talked about writing across cultures (and editing books written across cultures, like his Words in the Dust) for the website Women on Writing. Words in the Dust also recently won both the Christopher Award and a Golden Kite Honor Award, and I know I speak for Trent when I say how much we appreciate his hard work being recognized. (The lovely Uma Krishnaswami also did a terrific in-depth interview with Trent on the subject of writing across cultures last summer: Part 1 and Part 2.)

This checklist of Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Racism & Sexism is another great resource if you're trying to write or read books outside your culture. And Teju Cole's thoughts on sentimentality and "The White Savior Industrial Complex" are worth keeping in mind as well.

Guus Kuijer won the Astrid Lindgren Award! His The Book of Everything is a wonder -- one of those books people still discover and then write to thank us for publishing it -- and an adaptation of it will open on Broadway later this month.

This review of Above, by Leah Bobet, made me do a fist-pump on the street, because it fully appreciates the magnitude of what Leah accomplishes in that book, and that is an exceedingly rare thing for a review to do, sadly (sometimes because of space issues, sometimes because of reviewer-book chemistry). (Beware major spoilers, though.) It also got a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which called it "a dark, dazzling tale." When my thoughtful-blog-post-writing muscle comes back, I'm looking forward to talking more about this novel, which you should check out in stores now. 

Vicky Alvear Shecter shares a deleted scene from Cleopatra's Moon and a little bit of the editorial/authorial thinking that went into it being deleted. I'd add to what she says that it's not just about tone, it's also about pacing, and this scene came very early in the book, when the young Selene was just starting to become aware of the conflict between Rome & Egypt that will shape the rest of her life (and the novel). And it felt more important to me as a reader/editor to get into that conflict quickly than to have what is definitely a very sweet moment. If the scene had come later in the book, at a moment when the action was already humming along nicely, we might have kept it there.

My alma mater, Carleton College, interviewed me and fellow alum Kathleen Odean about the Meghan Cox Gurdon foofaraw last summer. (Or was it a kerfuffle? Both, I think.)

And the super-interesting and smart blog The Whole Megillah asked me some insightful questions about Second Sight, writing, and revision. Which I then answered.

The joke: What do you call a dyslexic agnostic insomniac? A person who stays up all night wondering if there is a dog.

I recently received copies of the second printing of Second Sight -- yay! -- and the book was mentioned by commenters on Jennifer Crusie's website as a recommended writing book -- double yay! (And many thanks, Robena, if you're out there.) Jennifer Crusie is one of my very favorite writers, so it was a thrill to see my book on her site. ("My name and book title went through her brain!" I think. "Even if it was just in cutting and pasting the title in! Wow!") 

Here's a non-me link: If you're looking for a writing skills tune-up, I bet Ms. Crusie's forthcoming series of online writing workshops, The Writewell Academy for Wayward Authors, will be pretty amazing.

And another one, if you need inspiration:  Dear Sugar/Cheryl Strayed's excellent advice to "Write Like a Mofo." I'm reading her memoir Wild now, and it is terrific.

Other things I've been loving:  the return of Mad Men; this recipe for spaghetti with Brussels sprouts; 21 Jump Street -- an unexpected delight; this list of "Lines from The Princess Bride That Double as Comments on Freshman Composition Papers" (or Manuscripts); string cheese.

There, now it is no longer about me. Go forth and write like mofos.

If You Like It, Then There's Only One Thing You Should Do.

So last Saturday morning, James and I decided to go for a run around Prospect Park, as we often do on weekends. We got dressed in our running clothes, and I noticed he was wearing a jacket over his long-sleeved shirt and exercise pants. "Aren't you going to be hot in that?" I asked, since it was sunny and the temperature was in the fifties.

"I can just tie it around my waist," he said.

I shrugged, and we locked up the apartment and set out for the park. We stretched on the plaza just behind the farmers' market, then ran along the north side of the park with our respective iPods. (That day I was listening to the greatest hits of Bruce Springsteen: "Badlands," "Thunder Road," "Hungry Heart.") I was still transitioning back to running outside after the winter's treadmills, so I was determined to complete a whole loop without stopping to walk.

One of my very favorite places on Earth

As we ran down the west side hill, James said, "You know, I think we should take this cross-country route my brother showed me." I said sure, and we turned left on the road that cut east through the park above the lake. As we approached the first bend, he said, "Let's go up this hill."

I said, "No, I want to do the whole loop."

He said, "You really should see the view from the top."

I said, "No, I've seen it before, come on."

He said, "It's a shortcut, just trust me on this." (Which I didn't, because I've been running around the park for at least as long as he has, and I knew that running up Lookout Hill was no shortcut.)

But we went up the hill, with me grumbling at climbing the stairs. ("It's good for our glutes!" James said.) The path switchbacked to the west, and I said, "You do realize that we're going backwards now, right? Not the direction we want to be going?" He just nodded and encouraged me to keep running. We went over a terrace and ended up at the circle on top of Lookout Hill, the highest point in the park. I figured we'd go round the circle and run back down to continue the loop.

But as we started around to the left, a man in Victorian dress and spectacles hailed me: "Hello, fair lady!" Cheerful greetings from people in eccentric costumes are not that unusual in New York, so I figured he was some kind of actor doing street theatre in the park, and stopped to hear what he had to say. James slowed down alongside me. The man in costume pulled out a scroll and read from it: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of . . . more fortune!" And he went on to deliver a speech liberally laced with Jane Austen quotes, all demonstrating his avarice. He ended by suggesting that we speak to his friend a little farther on, "Though I warn you--the stupidity with which he was favored by nature guards his courtship from any charms."

I felt both delighted and deeply confused by this turn of events, so I looked at James and said, "Do you know anything about this?" It was his turn to shrug. The next man, in similar costume and with a similar scroll, offered a similar speech, including "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love -- myself."

About midway through this fine peroration on his own charms, my brain started thinking, This has to be what I think it is. Is it? Oh my, is it really? This gentleman concluded by looking around for an additional list of his good qualities. James held up a scroll of his own and said, "Is this it?" The man examined it and said, "No, I think you should read this one."

And James did, quite nervously and sweetly. I won't share everything he said, but he got down on one knee (as mandated by my favorite movie), and he also invoked one of my favorite descriptions of marriage of all time, from John Stuart Mill's On the Subjection of Women, in saying that he hoped it's what we might have as well:
On the contrary, when each of the two persons, instead of being a nothing, is a something; when they are attached to one another, and are not too much unlike to begin with; the constant partaking in the same things, assisted by their sympathy, draws out the latent capacities of each for being interested in the things which were at first interesting only to the other; and works a gradual assimilation of the tastes and characters to one another, partly by the insensible modification of each, but more by a real enriching of the two natures, each acquiring the tastes and capacities of the other in addition to its own . . . When the two persons both care for great objects, and are a help and encouragement to each other in whatever regards these, the minor matters on which their tastes may differ are not all-important to them; and there is a foundation for solid friendship, of an enduring character, more likely than anything else to make it, through the whole of life, a greater pleasure to each to give pleasure to the other, than to receive it. . . . What marriage may be in the case of two persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and purposes, between whom there exists that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in them -- so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and being led in the path of development -- I will not attempt to describe.
And with such a prospect before me, dear reader, I said yes!

James gave me his late mother's engagement/wedding ring, which was just my size; and the last week has been a flurry of informing friends and family, accepting congratulations, and starting conversations about dates and locations for the grand party we hope to throw for those same friends and family. (I'm from the Midwest, he's from the Bay Area, and we live in New York, so we have the entire United States open to us.) The two gentlemen in costume were friends of James's, unknown to me; James wrote the scripts with all the Jane Austen references to please me, featuring characters with defects (greed and vanity) that would highlight his own suit in turn--"classic literary foils," he says. He rented the costumes for them from a shop in Midtown.

Mr. Avarice and Mr. Vanity

And James had to wear the jacket because it carried both his proposal and the ring! (I've forgiven him for making me run up the hill.)

My Weasley and me

Thank you for your good wishes, all!

In Which "Shaft" Once Again Saves the Day

So I had a pretty good run in this morning's New York City Half-Marathon: one beautiful loop of Central Park -- a 10K -- in an hour flat; a thrilling lope through the canyons of Seventh Avenue and Times Square, people cheering from the sidewalks, the roads car-free and mine; a hard right down 42nd Street, taxis still streaming by on the other side of the barrier; and a long slog down the West Side Highway, four miles of bare concrete and ravelling will. I didn't train as well for this half-marathon as I did for the one last October -- I skipped a lot of the cross-training, and my longest training run was just 10.5 miles -- so by the 10th mile, I was starting to bargain with myself: "At 11 miles you can walk for a minute . . . You don't need water now, just keep going . . ." I made it through the 11th mile without walking (deals with myself are designed to be broken), but as the 12th mile marker approached, my right leg aching and my running playlist nearly complete, I was seriously contemplating giving up my goal of beating 2:09:26, my record from last year, and switching to a nice, limping stroll.

And then -- and then -- Shaft saved the day. Or more precisely, Isaac Hayes's "Theme from 'Shaft'" saved the day: tissahissa tissahissa tissahissa tissahissa tissahissa tissahissa tissahissa tissahissa tissahissa CHA bim bim bewbimawackakakuh bim bim . . . As the beat sizzled on, I started to smile, then grinned outright; for what would Shaft say if he knew I was thinking about quitting? I would lose my hard-won badass status from last year, and be a bad mother(shutting my mouth) -- and not in the good way. I picked up the pace, listened to the theme twice in that last mile and a tenth, and finished at 2:09:04, a solid 22 seconds off my previous record. (My pace also improved by exactly one second -- a 9:51 mile on average -- which means that if I do a half-marathon a year with this same improvement, I'll hit the female winner's pace of 5:23 in 2274.) So I extend my thanks to Mr. Hayes and Mr. Roundtree for their inspiration and excellent style . . . and I'm going to listen to that song one more time.

Racing for the Cure 2007

Longtime readers will know that every year, I run the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure in honor of my grandmother, Carol Sadler, who died of breast cancer in 2003. It's always an awesome, inspiring event, as 20,000 people stream through Central Park to fight a disease that kills more than 40,000 women and men each year. I'm running it again in 2007, and again organizing a Carleton College alumni team to participate as well. The race is Sunday, September 9, at 9 a.m. If you would be interested in joining us, please follow this link (you don't have to be a Carletonite to be on the team); or if you'd like to contribute to the cause, click here.

And either way, thank you, very much.

Running and Resolutions

It's hard to express how much I used to hate exercise. My father is a former high-school cross-country coach, and much of my adolescent rebellion was tied up in being as sedentary as possible. (Passive-aggressive, with emphasis on the "passive"; Holden Caulfield had nothing on me.) In high school I got B's in gym -- given that I was aiming for a 4.0, I saw this as all the more reason to give it up once I finished freshman P.E. And in college I took the four phys-ed courses necessary to get the requirement out of the way, no more, never more.

But over time, my attitude changed. I fell in love with walking cities when I studied abroad in England, and got to know New York via long hikes in random directions. I joined the Scholastic Corporate Challenge team as a walker and dared to try a little jogging between strolls. Then I started dating a runner, and his influence and encouragement made me first interested, then active. My father bought me a pair of running shoes (barely restraining his excitement); my boyfriend and I started taking Saturday-morning runs; and we were out walking one winter day when he said, "I bet you couldn't run a 10K."

I said, "Excuse me?"

"I bet you couldn't run a 10K."

"I could so!" I said. "Maybe not right now, but I could totally run a 10K if I wanted to." He laughed, reached over, and started poking the front of my peacoat. "What do you think you're doing?"

He was still laughing. "I'm pushing your buttons."

Needless to say, he was both annoying and wrong, and obviously had to be proven so. So I put "Run a 10K" on my 2004 Resolution List, and that December, after much training and swearing, I ran a 10K. (The boyfriend ran it with me, and kindly admitted he was mistaken afterward.) I didn't do anything longer than my marathon lark last year, but for 2006 I decided I wanted to challenge myself again, and "Run a half-marathon" went on the Resolutions.

So this very small picture is a very big deal: me at the end of my first half-marathon this morning in Central Park. It was by far the longest distance I've ever run, and the crowning event of three months of regular training (also a big deal, as I usually have the self-discipline of a Jack Russell terrier). It rained the entire race, beginning with a cold downpour while we were waiting for the starting horn and occasionally varying to "heavy spit," "steady sprinkling," and "cats and dogs"; but after the initial soaking, this actually wasn't too bad, as it kept me cool and gave me something to think about besides how much farther I had to run.* Likewise I concentrated a lot on my music: "Sunday in the Park with George" for the first loop around the park, my Running playlist for the second, with "Superstition" to kick me up the Harlem Meer hill and "Mr. Brightside" to speed my last mile to the finish. My final time was 2:09:26 (a 9:52 per mile pace), 3002nd out of 4275 participants. As I hoped just to complete the thing, I am quite pleased to have turned in a sub-10-minute-mile performance, and also pretty tired. But yay for being done with the Resolution, and for growing and changing and challenges.

* Another source of contemplation: At about the seven-mile mark, I gave myself a pep talk that went like this: "You're running thirteen miles in the rain. Finish this race, and you will be the most badass of all the badass people in the world. You will be more badass than Samuel L. Jackson. You will be more badass than Shaft." But then I had to shut my mouth -- both for the audacity of the thought, and because I couldn't think of anyone more badass than Shaft. The race ended; I came home, took a shower, and collapsed on my bed, and an "Alias" rerun was on TV. And there was my answer: I was more badass than Jack Bristow. (But don't tell him I said that. )

Sunday, Rainday

I'm supposed to run eight miles today, but, oh darn, it's raining.

Actually I do feel "oh darn" about this, as running has oddly become one of the most consistent and simple pleasures of my life: shorts and a tank, Asics on, earphones in, and then an hour of blessed movement in the park, with the good people of Brooklyn and the music all around me. When I don't run on Sundays now, I feel the same way I feel when I miss church; my life is less rich because I haven't gotten outside it.

It's been a weekend marked by rain, and especially planning for and around it. On Friday a date and I decided to skip the Brooklyn Cyclones game for the Met because of the rainy forecast; we visited my beloved Tiffany room and the roof deck, where we saw "Move Along, Nothing to See Here, a pair of life-size replicas of crocodiles cast in resin, pierced with scissors and knives confiscated at airport security checkpoints." Only in New York, kids. And thanks to the damp conditions Saturday morning, Ben and I waited a mere three hours for tickets to "Mother Courage" at Shakespeare in the Park. I took a jacket, a plastic poncho, and an umbrella to the theatre last night, and thankfully needed none of them: Meryl snorted, kvetched and cavorted, and carried the show and her wagon, untouched by rain.

Self-Pity Post: Whinny and Whine

I ran seven miles tonight -- seven blessed, freaking miles -- the longest distance I've run since the Marathon last year, and a damn sight less fun. My knees hurt. My stomach hurts. Odd muscles on the outside of my thighs hurt. I just want to lie on my bed and stare into space and emit small moans.

(Moan. Moan.)

I'm fine, really, of course, and heaven knows I'm the one who's choosing to put myself through this -- per my Resolutions, I'm training for a half-marathon on October 1. And the training is going well; I'm actually ahead of schedule. I am also eating like a horse, though I'm not sure if this is because my metabolism is changing or I'm just giving myself license to pig out given how much I'm exercising.

(Moan. Whinny. Oink. Moan.)

Nonetheless, I am taking advantage of one of my four Self-Pity Posts* for 2006 to note my stiff ankles and sore neck and tight back and general exhaustion. And I have to go to work tomorrow, and my apartment isn't very clean, and I have a zit on my chin, and I'm editing a dissertation about medieval pilgrims, and I'm losing in my digital Scrabble game, and, and . . .

Do I have anything else to whine about? Not really. But for good measure:

Moan. Moan. Moan.
* A little-known fact of the Blogger terms of service: Each blogger is allowed four Self-Pity Posts (SPPs) per year, wherein said blogger can whine, scream, kick, pout, make stupid faces, and complain to his/her heart's comfort. Commenters who sympathize can earn an additional SPP for their own blogs; commenters who deplore such behavior in a grown-up get a tongue stuck out at them. Phbbbt.

Power (or Lack-of-Power) Post

This has been a long and tiring day. The mentally and emotionally tiring part was figuring out what I want to publish, the best way to publish it, and how to get everyone else on board with it . . . just like it is most every day: reading, and feeling, and interrogating those feelings, and then thinking, and writing, and talking intensely, all in the service of books I hope other people will read and then feel and think and write and talk about intensely too. It is a lovely job, but it can be exhausting, and today was one of those days.

The physically tiring part was that I ran the Chase Corporate Challenge. The CCC in NYC is a 3.5-mile run through Central Park, from 72nd St. just above my beloved Cherry Hill, over the Reservoir, up to 103rd St. or so, down past the Metropolitan Museum and the Boathouse, and finishing up this year at Cherry Hill again. Teams from various corporations compete in the run, each decked out in shirts with the company logo and sometimes a cute saying or other corporate branding. I've run on the Scholastic team for the last four years, and I have a Harry Potter 5 shirt (which says "Ready. Set. Fly." on the back), a Geronimo Stilton ("It's a rat race out here!"), an It's Happy Bunny ("I may be slow, but I'm in front of you.") and now Bone ("C'mon, Grandma!"). Half the entertainment of the race for me is indeed reading the other companies' shirts and seeing how they represented themselves or worked running into their corporate communication clothing:
  • Sotheby's: "Going - Going - Gone"
  • Hallmark Channel: "It's not the victory that's important, but the journey" (or something rather more elegantly phrased than this, but no less sappy)
  • MoMA: [the MoMA logo on a gray square as seen from behind, as if you were looking at it through a glass window]
  • Some investment firm: "Making It Happen . . . One Step at a Time"
  • Some law firm: "Going the Distance for Our Clients"

(There were other, better, ones, but my brain feels lightly sauteed right now. Yes, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.) Anywho. The weather was steamy, and I had no goal beyond completing the whole course without walking. But not very far from the beginning of the race, an overenthusiastic young person was cheering for the various shirts that ran by -- "Yeah Informa! Yeah Bear Stearns!" This immediately made me start brainstorming Scholastic cheers, and I came up with:

S, S, S-C-H

And then of course the chant was stuck in my head the whole race, in various permutations:

S, S, S-C-H-O
L, L, L-A-S-T
Let's go

I also started:

Clifford, Clifford
He's our dog
If he can't do it . . .

But then I was stumped. "He's a frog!"? "I won't blog!"? Your suggestions welcome. Anywho again, when I wasn't cataloging t-shirts or reciting cheers in my mind like the cheerleader wannabe I am, I was trying to compute my pace and what I'd need to do to maintain it (because any mental activity is a blessing during a run, even math). I ended up at a slightly-better-than 10:45/mile average, coming in at 37:14 -- not as good as last year, but whatever. I'm getting older. After the race ended, I drank my free power waters, ate my free power bars (actually two Prias and an Atkins Advantage), and gratefully came home to a power shower, power takeout sushi, and soon my beloved, much-longed-for power bed.

End of tired story. Here's wishing you all lots of power and fun t-shirts -- but no annoying rhyming chants -- in the days to come.

Marathon Mania

This all began with a bridge. Two years ago, I made a New Year's Resolution to walk all the bridges linking Manhattan to the mainland and other islands. I have always loved bridges -- the beauty, the height, the connection, the betweenness -- and in 2002 I had crossed the Brooklyn, the Manhattan, the Williamsburg and the George Washington; in 2003, I decided, I would finish them off. The effort turned out to be one of the great joys of that year, as it took me to parts of the city I'd never seen before (the Bronx, Roosevelt Island, Inwood Hill Park) and provided many wonderful walks, stories, and views.

But it also created a thorn in my side: the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island. The V-N is the tallest, highest, longest, bridge in the New York City area and the sixth-longest suspension bridge in the world, 4,260 graceful feet from span to span. Even though it was out of my Manhattan-bridge purview, it was so big and so beautiful I longed to cross it on foot, and I felt I couldn't say I'd walked all the major NYC bridges until I conquered that one. But the V-N doesn't allow pedestrian traffic and never has, which means I've been talking disconsolately about it for years.

Until finally, this last September, Rachel brought up the one exception to the pedestrian rule. She said, "Why don't you crash the Marathon?"

"I don't want to run the Marathon," I said. "I'm not in shape, I'm not registered, it's too late--"

"You crash, idiot," she said. "You don't register officially. You sneak into the starting area, you run across the bridge, and that's it."


The more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it. If I were officially registered, I'd be taking a place away from another runner who could actually go 26.2 miles, and I'd feel guilty cutting out without completing the whole thing -- I could just picture my ancestors with their Protestant work ethics frowning down on me for leaving a job unfinished. Running unregistered avoided those problems and provided an attractive air of minor illegality. And I would finally get to cross the Verrazano-Narrows.

So I researched the requirements to enter the starting area (a timing chip and a number) and procured the chip at a NYRR race last week. I consulted Jimmy about his 2004 Marathon experience; Melissa Anelli offered me the use of her apartment in Staten Island (which I had to decline); Katy and Rachel encouraged the skullduggery. Most crucially, the most excellent Jeremiah scanned his number and, through the miracle of Photoshop, made it mine:

(He changed the number and removed his name from the left side so it now reads "Cheryl Klein.") On Saturday he even nobly took time out from the Notre Dame game to help me fake a decal for my timing chip. That night I laced the chip on my shoe; laid out my new running top, t-shirt coverup, and favorite shorts and socks; reviewed the plan; and went to bed in a state of high excitement.

Sunday morning I was up at 5:30, on the subway by 6, on the S53 bus by 7, and at 7:30 I was lying through my teeth to a nice man from Dallas who wanted to know how long I'd been training and what my pace was. "Oh, about four-thirty," I said.

That is four hours and thirty minutes, for the record. Who's crazy enough to run that long?

The answer is 37,000 people, and all of them were in Fort Wadsworth at Staten Island. I tried to be inconspicuous, but I wasn't enough of a runner to know that you always wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to a run to keep your muscles warm, so I stood out a little in the 55-degree cool. . . . I kept my number covered and my chip out of sight. I was supposed to be in the green group, which was relegated to the bottom level of the bridge, but fortuitously I met up with Jeremiah and his friend Mike (Jeremiah's on the right in the picture), and we decided to join the blue group instead. We hung out for two hours (much of it in line for the Port-A-Potties) before the Powers That Be finally began to move us to the start.

This was where it got exciting. People yelled, whooped, did team cheers. Clothes flew through the air as runners stripped off their warm-ups and threw them into the trees. Jeremiah and Mike peeled off for one last bathroom break. I streamed forward with the crowd through a few bends, down toward the toll gates, around a big U, where I tossed away my t-shirt . . .

And there was the Verrazano. It was gorgeous, but I was almost too caught up in the energy and exhilaration of the morning to appreciate it: We were running now, all of us, up the long straightaway to the first anchorage, with volunteers cheering on the sidelines and TV cameras capturing our first enthusiastic sprints. I loped two hundred feet, took a picture, ran another two hundred feet, took a picture, and kept that up pretty much all the way across the bridge, trying to preserve as many memories as possible. (I discovered after about ten pictures that my memory card was full, so I started running and deleting old pictures from my camera at the same time, which must have looked incredibly goofy.) The morning was bright and cool and the spirit was electric. I whooped as I crossed under each anchorage, the Verrazano mine at last.

And then we were off the bridge, following the curves, descending into Bay Ridge. The good people of Brooklyn greeted us with shouting and signs and applause and encouragement. Here I came to my big dilemma: I had thought that I would come off the bridge, run to Fourth Avenue, and catch the R straight back to Park Slope -- I had to be at church to count the offering at 12:30 and I definitely needed to shower before then, so that was surely the most sensible thing to do. But it was only 10:30, and I was curious about how far I could go. . . . I passed the 92nd St. station and thought, I'll just run to the next subway stop.

By 89th Street I'd decided: I was running home, all the way to 9th Street in Park Slope. And it was a glorious happy four miles after that, waving to the spectators, humming along with the bands, grabbing water, taking the occasional picture, all the time forward forward forward in that blind runners' drive. Everyone yelled or yodeled as we crossed under the highway bridges. The shop signs changed from Italian to Spanish to Arabic to Chinese to English. I watched the street numbers count down and thought about how much I loved New York. Is there a greater city in this world? No, there is not.

I turned off at 9th Street with regret; I had gone nearly seven miles, my longest distance ever, but I was still so hyped up I wanted to run even farther -- to do the entire marathon, if I could. There was one picture left on my camera, and I asked a passersby to take my photo before I removed my wonderful number:

And then I walked up to 5th Avenue, went straight into a Dunkin Donuts, and ordered a Boston Kreme. Best. Doughnut. Ever.

Next year, I'm running the whole thing.

Cause for Celebration

Posting quickly here to brag that I ran the 3.5 miles of the Chase Corporate Challenge tonight in a Cheryl-record 34 minutes and 48 seconds. The Scholastic team had great It's Happy Bunny t-shirts that said on back, "I may be slow, but I'm in front of you," which inspired us all to run fast and mock the people behind us. Yay me! Yay Scholastic!

Also a fun link from Katy: I don't know about you, but I, personally, would rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

And lastly I saw a preview for the new "Pride and Prejudice" movie starring Keira Knightley before "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" last night. It looks dark, brooding, and romantic rather than crisply sunny, funny, and sensible -- Jane Austen in Bronte clothing, basically -- but it comes out the weekend of my birthday, so do I care? No. I am going to go out for a fabulous dinner with my friends, drink lots of wine, and go see this movie.

Happy Summer!