Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

--Ursula K. LeGuin, 2014 Medalist for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rat Gets a Little Honor

My favorite slave boy, Rat, prefers to be invisible most of the time, but his story (told by him, written by me) picked up an Honorable Mention this month from the Utah Arts Original Writing Competition 2015. You can see the results of all the category winners here.

Thanks, Utah Arts!

Love that Typewriter on Green painting.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Barefoot Style

Apparently, going barefoot is out of style.

Bare feet run fast--if you're Kenyan

Not that it was ever quite in, but minimal shoes and barefooting were sort of a thing. The Haitians and Jamaicans grew up without shoes, and those guys were fast. So were the Kenyans. And Zola Budd. And that secret running tribe in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, who ran in thin, leather huaraches. There was Barefoot Ken-Bob, the barefoot guru. And Barefoot Ted.

But then people got injured when they stepped out of their ultra-cushioned shoes onto the actual ground, or into a pair of shoes with no raised heel and very little padding.  LOTS of people got injured. Achilles tendon damage. Foot bone stress fractures. The military actually banned minimal shoes.

The rash of injuries isn't too surprising, when you think about it--something like spending your whole life in a cast and suddenly expecting your leg to hold you up. Or walking around wearing sunglasses all the time and then taking them off one day and finding the light hurts your eyes.

The problem was, I think, that people wanted instant results. They wanted a pill. No injuries! Ever! Shoes are bad! Take off your shoes--or mostly off--and you'll run like the mysterious Tarahumara tribe in Mexico!

I took off my shoes because I had plantar fasciitis for a year and a half and everything the doctors said to do about that made it worse, until a guy in my local running shoe store handed me Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run, and suggested I get rid of padding and arch supports. Also, my brother had started running barefoot and he thought it was just fun.

It took another year and a half to work slowly into wearing minimal shoes--or bare feet--100 percent of the time when I run, and I still have to be careful when I put on a lot of miles. You have to ease into it slowly, and remember your feet are weak from years of wearing padded shoes with heel lifts. Wearing raised heels all the time actually shortens the Achilles tendons. There's a reason the shoe-boxes for minimals usually warn beginners to start out wearing them only ten percent of the time.

Super-padded shoes are the new trend, the guy in my local running shoe store tells me. Trail runners so floaty-thick-and-soft they could make you believe rocks don't even exist. Pure fantasy.

All right. I get it. People don't want to get hurt.

Personally, I believe in rocks, especially when I trip on them. My ankles and knees (which haven't been twisted or injured since the day I paid to have out the padding cut out of my running shoes), they believe in rocks, too.

So does my daughter, who got twenty-one stitches over the course of one summer tripping over rocks and roots in her highly padded heel-lifted running shoes (she's still not a fan of minimal shoes).

 So, I didn't buy the super-padded floaty-soft shoes. Instead, I picked up a great deal on a pair of discontinued minimal trail runners, which I bought in case they weren't there next time I really needed some, and backpacked 27 miles in those shoes--with a 45-lb pack on my back. Which was freaking heavy, maybe because of the six tangerines and two apples--and the baggie of garden peas--and pillow from home, because I wanted to sleep, didn't I?--and the giant canister of bear pepper spray. No twisted ankles or tripping, though, because, yeah, I could feel the rocks, which were definitely not fantasy. When we went on a day hike through squishy marsh and snow, I kicked off even those shoes and went barefoot across the snow. For some reason no one wanted to join me.
The 45-lb pack--see it tipping off to one side? That would be the bear spray, probably.

After we got back I wore my thrashed zero-drop padded shoes for a few days, because my bones weren't used to that kind of abuse and some padding felt good.

But I've been back in my minimals for awhile. And my favorite run will probably always be the barefoot one in the drainage-basin park which they always over-water and the grass is splashy and squishy under your feet and it's SO MUCH FUN! Even with that little thistle patch on the southwest part of the basin, which doesn't hurt anymore, because my feet have become pretty tough.

Moms with little kids glare at me, think I'm setting their children a bad example.

Maybe.  I just like to know the ground is real.

Bare feet in grass!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Apologizing to the Birds, again

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, after the Boston Marathon bombings. In the following months, my son  had brain surgery, his friend's sister was diagnosed with leukemia, my daughter got an ulcer on a major artery and almost bled to death, and a friend of mine lost a daughter in a tragic accident up the canyon. And then last month our bishop and half his family went down in a plane crash, and my son asked me, "Why do so many things keep happening?" 

A part of me wanted to say, it could be worse. Things could be so much worse. We live in a little bubble of safety here below our Wasatch mountains. But I didn't tell him that. It wouldn't change the pain. Or the shock of each new thing. So I just said, I don't know.

But there was this: my kids all wanted to stay  a little closer to home and to each other for awhile. And whenever we saw one of our neighbors, we cried together. I still don't have an answer. But I think we all love each other a little more. And I kept thinking about Boston, and Alyosha, apologizing to the birds, so thought I'd post this again.

We've all been going through a rough patch lately.

Some of the details are different.

We all cried for Sandy Hook. All those children. And that movie theater in Colorado.

And back in February there was my sixteen-year-old neighbor who died of complications from flu. Not swine flu, just normal flu. The kind your kids got this winter, too. One week he was playing water-polo and fouling people in basketball and the next week he wasn't here anymore. And no, he didn't have special health problems that made him unusually vulnerable.

And then the mom of one of my kid's friends died.
And then that same friend's brother died, too, just this week. Nobody knew any details.

And of course, Boston. We're all still reeling from that. Who bombs a marathon? Kills eight-year-olds? Tries to murder people gathered together to cheer on determination and hard work and human spirit? Who does that? Nails and metal shards exploding from a pressure-cooker? What a sorry use of potential creative talent.

The same day as the marathon bombs, a middle-school girl in my city went missing. Left for school and never got there. They found her yesterday, safe and whole, and we all cried again, this time with relief.

And then yesterday, there was that explosion in Texas.

And the Senate rejecting any gun-control legislation whatsoever, as though rubbing into our faces all those Newtown and Colorado deaths by military-assault-style weapons. As though saying yeah, the world sucks, and we're going to do our best to make it suckier.

But there were also all those people in Boston rushing straight into the smoke to help. Ripping down metal barriers to get to the injured. Giving away their coats. Sharing phones. And all those runners running all those miles and then running some more to the hospital to donate blood and save some lives.

Of course they did.

Right? Wouldn't you? And the hundreds of volunteers, who didn't even know that missing girl, showing up to help search for her.

It's what we do, isn't it?

Yeah, there's horror in the world. A lot of it. There are people who try to make others suffer. It's the way this planet is. Sometimes it's the way some of us make it, and sometimes bad things just happen for no apparent reason. But part of being human is reaching out and sharing the burden. Which people do, too.

Last night my son came into my room at midnight to tell me that his hair was crunchy from the gel in it and he couldn't sleep, so he was going to take a shower, ok? And, by the way, his friend's brother who just died? It was suicide.

I don't think my kid woke me up because his hair was crunchy. He didn't want to talk much, just let me know about that suicide. Somehow it made it a little easier for him to sleep, that he didn't have to be alone knowing really horrible things happen in the world.

When I thought about it this morning, I cried again. And thought of Alyosha's hero, Father Zosima in Brothers Karamazov, telling about his brother apologizing to the birds for the condition of the world, because he knew if he were just a little bit kinder, better, more generous, things would be better for that bird outside the window, and for every other creature and person on the planet. And then Alyosha going out and trying to live that way, as if he owed the birds.

Nobody steals Fred Roger's car
And I thought about that story I heard of the guy who stole Mr. Roger's car, and when he found out, gave it back. Because you just don't steal Mr. Roger's car--the man who sang, "you are my friend, you are special to me"? Because every kid who grew up watching Mr. Rogers secretly knew he loved us, even though we'd never met. We all need to feel that from someone.

What if we were all Fred Rogers and Alyosha Karamazov? Would people still bomb marathons?

Maybe. I wonder.

But we can at least keep on running a few extra miles past 26.2 to donate blood. And we can keep on talking, sharing the burden of all the suffering through the stories we tell. The stories that make us feel, yeah, people are good. They really are.

I don't think the terrorists won in Boston. Humanity did. Because the stories are bigger than the bombs. Maybe we'll even get to the point where we can apologize to the birds.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

We Are Hungry

I love food--it's a fact. And I'm picky. It has to be good food. If I don't like it, I don't swallow. No, not that bad, Ratatouille. But it's true my neighbors have become addicted to my hot fudge sauce, to the point where they sneak the jar into the closet and eat it cold with a spoon. And they won't share with their their sisters when there isn't enough to go around on everybody's ice cream. 

Worse, I'm afraid I've turned my children into food snobs. It's sad. And expensive. And a really big problem, because I write novels and I DON'T HAVE TIME TO COOK ALL THE TIME! And nobody at my house will eat frozen burritos. And my garden is still dead.

Missing last year's garden

Especially the tomatoes         

And the fresh basil to put on the tomatoes

I made food yesterday. It was supposed to last for two dinners and several days' lunches at least, but it's already gone and there's nothing to eat again.

People should be snakes and only need to eat every two weeks.

So...if you know any good recipes that only use real ingredients and are full of anti-oxidants and fiber and also taste like something you'd get at a French restaurant in New York City and...only take five minutes to produce...please let me know immediately, because it's dinner time and we might be eating Cheerios again.Without milk, because I didn't have time to buy any. I was writing.

We could starve before I finish this draft of my novel.

Maybe that's why my MC is always hungry.


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