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The emotional impact of stories May 30, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Books, Writing.
For the past 12 years, I’ve always read “The Catcher in the Rye” at this time of year. And every year, some part of the book touches me in a new way to make me again realize a writer is what I’m meant to be.

Initially I read the book sometime during high school (although not as an assignment) and was required to do so during my freshman year of college. As with so many readers before me and since, I connected with Holden Caulfield and related to his angst and confusion.

In 1998 I was again assigned to read the book in college, this time for an English class on rites of passage in literature at a local community college. As an explanation: the year before, I’d decided to change careers and become an elementary school teacher. That, of course, meant going back to school. Obtaining an elementary education teaching certificate in Illinois was, at the time, a cumbersome process even with a bachelor’s degree. (In all likelihood it still is, but I’m unfamiliar with what’s required now.) The amount of classes needed was staggering, so I started at the community college. When I found out I could complete one of the English electives needed in three weeks during May-June 1998, I jumped at the opportunity for this rites of passage class.

The class was an interesting mix of students. Probably two-thirds were 18 to 20 years old, with some of them home for the summer from other colleges and looking for a quick three credit hours. The other third of the students were like me, mostly in our 30s and a mixture of men and women. We met for three hours a night, Mondays through Thursdays, and the workload was obviously intense. For Memorial Day weekend, our assignment was to read “The Catcher in the Rye.”

At our next class, the day after Memorial Day, we discussed the book. Everyone had something to say, even those who didn’t normally speak up during class. All related to some aspect of Holden, which created an energizing discussion. The younger students didn’t find as much humor in the book as we adults did, but that added to the back-and-forth dialogue. No matter the opinion, it was talked about.

A week or so later, while I was completing my take-home final exam and answering questions about “Catcher” and the other stories and poems we covered during the brief course, I realized the impact that these works had on the reader. Simple words printed on paper could cause these reactions, elicit earnest discussions. Stories really do have power.

It took a couple of months before I came to the realization that writing, and not teaching, was where my interest and talents are. After that, I quit pursuing the teaching certificate and turned my attention to creating those words on paper (or computer monitor). But since I sometimes stumble with my resolve throughout the course of a year, I still get the urge to read again Holden’s story and feel its impact right around now. It reminds me of the rites of passage class and what I learned both inside and outside of that classroom.

I’m about halfway through reading the book right now. Familiar though it is, the emotional connection still remains.


Progress and discovery May 12, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Exercise, Writing.
Monday I reached a running milestone, and it was unintentional. When I started running again in March, I followed the Cool Running “Couch to 5K” program that has a final goal of running 30 minutes. By week five or six, I wasn’t sticking to the plan and increasing running times and distances on my own. On Monday, my intention was to run for 25 minutes straight with no walking.
Since it was rainy, I headed to the Y instead of the riverfront. And it’s been a while since I’ve run indoors. Going around and around that padded blue track Monday was quite the change from the beginning of March – definitely an improvement. Two months ago, most of my thoughts were “How much longer until I can walk some laps?” Monday, those thoughts never entered my mind. I kept going and going, tuning out the distractions of the bouncing basketballs and teenage voices from the gym below and instead focusing on the music from Glee playing through my iPod. Racing through my mind were writing ideas, especially on the new novel I’m planning.
Since I decided to shelve “Summer of ‘94” back in March, I’d been trying to figure out what to pursue next. I’d had an idea for completely redoing the novel I wrote last November for National Novel Writing Month, which I thought through on several runs and began working on in bits and pieces. The story, though, never really took off for me. It was based, to a degree, on a real-life local incident involving a guy I know (how’s that for vague?) and the more I thought and worked on it, the more unseemly it felt.
I’ve been happy with the amount of writing I’m doing – my whole point in creating this blog was to write regularly, although at the time I didn’t know I’d soon be contributing to a Cardinals blog twice a week too. (Check it out here if you haven’t. It’s been a lot of fun!) Yet I still want something else to work on, because my real writing goal is novelist.
As often happens, my friend Linda made a comment that sparked an idea. After reading my story of converting to Cardinals fandom on the Diamond Diaries blog, she said “THAT is the essence of what I wanted to get from ‘Summer of ’94.’” When I asked what she meant by “that,” she said it was “the feeling, the passion, energy, intensity, the almost ‘couldn’t help it’ compulsion, the pure love of the game.” OK, so a new fiction project obviously must include baseball. (Of course.)
One day last week while running, some great ideas came to mind. I couldn’t wait to get back to my car and scribble them all down. And on Monday too, I spent the majority of my workout letting my mind wander about this new story and more ideas. Not any worth sharing yet, other than it’s about a woman named Maggie who’s a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan (of course!) and the baseball season where she turns 40. Some of it will be funny, some it more serious. (Like life. And baseball.) It might take place in 2006, just because it would be fun to write about experiencing that year’s playoffs.
With so many thoughts on Monday, the running time passed quickly. I still played mind games with myself – not checking my watch until a song ended, for example – and was very surprised to see I’d been running for more than 26 minutes. Since I was already past my goal for that day, might as well set a new one: 30 minutes. The pinnacle of the “Couch to 5K” program, without any pre-run motivation. I was definitely tired, but concentrating on “Like a Prayer” helped. (I even wanted to clap along when the choir was singing, yet restrained the impulse.) When I needed more inspiration, I again thought of a Cardinal to get me through – only this time it was Trever Miller and his advice on runners needing to push themselves. (Sorry, CC.) And it worked. Looking down and seeing 30:00 on my watch was a fantastic feeling.
While walking several laps and listening to “Don’t Stop Believing” (while also realizing even this version of the song reminds me of the 2005 White Sox), more thoughts on the new story came to mind. Once again, in my car, I jotted them down quickly. Yesterday and this morning I’ve been looking back at other stories I started but never finished, since one in particular focused on baseball. But I’m not looking for inspiration. Just to see what I did before because I don’t want this new story to be anything like what I’ve written previously.
With plenty more running time coming up in the next few months, I’ll have much time to continue discovering this new novel.

Riverfront ramblings May 5, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball, Exercise.
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Spending the early evenings of Monday running and Tuesday walking along the Mississippi River gave me plenty of time to think.

Fun with WordPress searches
One of the things I like best about a WordPress blog is the stats it provides, such as the number of visits to a particular post each day. It also lets me know what search terms people used to find my blog. This doesn’t happen regularly, and most have been some variation on “when to give up writing a novel.” Then there are these two searches from the past couple days:
shirtless pics of chris carpenter
“chris carpenter” shirtless cardinal

First, it was not me doing these searches. Second: What? Really? This isn’t enough? And did you actually find shirtless pictures of him out there?

I do have these actual words in one post, but it mentions Chris plus a shirtless guy I saw running on the riverfront. Sorry to disappoint the searcher. But if you did find any pictures, can you please post the links in the comments?

Speaking of my favorite Cardinal, he was on my mind while walking last night. Yesterday I realized it was exactly two months until the Firecracker Run 10K race on July 4, so I need to start adding more distance to running and walking. Along Ben Butterworth Parkway, there is a 10,000 step path – a starting point at the east end, then signs that mark every 1,000 steps to a turnaround point at the west end. Doing the whole 10,000 step path is approximately four miles and, when I walk quickly, I can do it in an hour.

As I was getting out of the car, I noticed a couple starting to walk. They were very far in front of me by the time I started – it takes me forever to get going, as I have to find the right music on my iPod, re-tie my shoes, drink some water, re-set the timer on my watch and the finally go. So I took off, walking into a pretty strong breeze but moving at a good pace.

Right after the 2,000 step sign, I noticed that couple up ahead. As I got closer, I saw they were walking on the opposite side of the path most of the time. The woman turned around several times and noticed me approaching. They were walking fairly fast, as was I, but they then started walking even faster. I would gain a little ground, but then the woman would turn around again and see me. People were approaching from the opposite direction, so they had to move to the proper side of the path. It bugged me they were so close in front of me – plus I didn’t like that the woman kept turning around – so I was determined to pass them. I picked up my pace. So did they. This was annoying. For a moment, I thought about running just to get around them, but didn’t really want to do that. No, this was now a battle – and a battle I was going to win on equal terms. Just like Chris Carpenter.

From somewhere within, my inner CC pushed me to walk at a crazy-fast pace. I pulled up side-by-side with them momentarily, then walked on by. The man said hi, but I wasn’t really paying attention. My focus was only on walking as I fast as I could, as long as I could, to get as far in front of them as possible. Then, battle won, I laughed to myself – after first having the perfect Chris Carpenter thought of “take that” with an F word thrown in (since we Cardinals fans heard for ourselves how much he likes that word). Where had this competitiveness come from? I really do have an inner Chris Carpenter. I am scaring myself.

The lesson: don’t mess with people whose initials are CC.

Baby geese!
Springtime along the riverfront means baby geese and ducks. Haven’t spotted any ducklings yet, but there are geese! Baby Canada geese fall into the “so ugly they’re cute” category. They are yellowish-green and fuzzy, plus look so tiny at first compared to the full-grown geese. Saturday morning I saw four babies, swimming in a line along side their parents on the river. Yesterday, I saw a large group with probably 10 or more surrounded by several geese.

Dancing along the path
Monday, I thought I saw a woman dancing along the path up ahead of me and coming my way. As I got closer, I realized that she was dancing – taking big steps from side to side, swaying her shoulders and her hips and waving her arms around. Then she started skipping for a couple moments, then returned to dancing. She said hi as she passed by. Later, going the opposite direction, I passed her again – still dancing.

New earrings
I had to decide what earrings to wear today. My lucky silver earrings and bracelet I’d worn each day since Saturday suddenly ran out of luck in the bottom of the 10th inning for the Cardinals last night. Yes, I’m just a little superstitious – as are Erika and Angela, my Cardinals friends and co-authors of Cardinal Diamond Diaries. Here’s Erika’s superstition post, and more on my earrings.

Why can’t we do what’s good for us? May 3, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Weight loss.

It makes perfect sense: when we eat well, we feel well. When we get enough sleep, we’re more alert and productive throughout the day. When we exercise, we feel energized. So why do we torture ourselves and not do these things? Why can’t we do what we know is good for us?

It’s the perfect Monday topic, since I spent the weekend overindulging. That is my downfall: eating poorly on the weekends. (And I know I’m not alone!) Mondays through Thursdays are no problem – eat really well, exercise, lose a pound or two. Then comes Friday. I’ve been good all week, so I’m going out to lunch today! (I have an unnatural love of Hardees cheeseburgers.) I could really use a candy bar to get me through the afternoon! How about a couple of beers after work? Wow, pizza sounds really good! On and on all weekend …

While I do exercise on Saturdays, and that tends to be my day to push myself running, even a run turns into a way to sabotage myself. For example, two days I ago I ran for more than 25 minutes straight, going more than two miles in the process. My motivator for the last mile was surprisingly not Chris Carpenter. Not this time. Instead it was the dark cherry mocha I saw advertised a week ago at Starbucks (when I was treating myself to a white chocolate mocha as a reward for getting up early to finish the book for my book group a couple hours later). Finish without walking, you can go to Starbucks when you’re done! I did. The cherry mocha was good, but still doesn’t beat the 400-plus calorie white chocolate mocha.

I order these mochas decaf, since caffeine is another of my battles. Several years ago, I started getting weird pains in my stomach. I went to the doctor and his first question was if I had a lot of caffeine. Yes, of course – a pot of coffee every morning before work, a diet soda or two during the day. He told me to stop having caffeine and, if the pains didn’t go away, to come back. Giving up caffeine was torture. The headaches for the first day or two were one thing, and expected. What I hadn’t known about was the lethargic feeling for a couple days after that. Once it passed, however, I felt good. No more pains. And I was able to successfully avoid coffee and caffeinated diet soda for quite a while. But one day, I was really tired at work. A Diet Coke would probably (and did) help. Then, the next day, it sounded good again. The following day, another … and now I might as well buy a 12-pack at the grocery store instead of spending 60 cents in the vending machine each day. I’ve now lost track of the number of times I get off this caffeine carousel – whenever the stomach pains return – only to get back on again within a week or so. If I would get enough sleep, it would help more. But it’s baseball season now! How can I go to bed early when the Cardinals are still playing?

Obviously I know what’s right eating-wise, and can manage to do it. I have been more disciplined – I did lose more than 60 pounds from June 2002 to March 2003. And, looking back, it seemed almost easy. The success I had in the first week built upon itself: the slightly smaller number on the scale, the leader writing the numbers on my chart and praising me, and literally getting a gold star to put on that chart motivated me week after week and month after month. Not every week was a success, but overall it added up. I still remember the day I finally reached my goal weight. Such an accomplishment, since so few at my Weight Watchers meetings ever did. A friend was going to meetings with me at the time, so she shared in my success. And how did we celebrate my goal? By going out for Mexican food and margaritas, of course!

Within a few years, I ended up gaining about 20 pounds back but refocused and lost 10. Once I did get back to my goal weight for a short period of time – running definitely helped there – but gained that 10 pounds again. Last year, after my Dad died, I gained another 10. So now I’ve been battling 20 pounds for more than a year. I’ll lose some, feel good, but then allow myself to overindulge during the week as well as on weekends and be back where I started. Such a frustration, because it’s such a cycle. I get disappointed in myself for bad choices, which just leads to more bad choices …

I wish I could answer those questions in the first paragraph, come up with a simple solution for myself and everyone else. But the truth, as we all know, is there is no easy way. No magic pill exists to instantly make us alert, thin and feeling good – despite what infomercials may try to tell us. It starts in our heads, starts with our minds, starts with making smart decisions.

One day at a time, one decision at a time.