23 Jul

Saturday Night at Crave Fishbar

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Saturday evening at Crave Fishbar. Every writer (I like to think anyway) needs a bar to write in. A friendly, neighborhood bar that is not too loud or crowded. Where you know the staff and they know you and they know what wine you like and what food you want and most of all, they know that you write. They make it easy for you to come in, set up shop at one end of the bar, and write, undisturbed. Crave Fishbar is that place for me. It is where I can be found most Saturday evenings when I am in NYC and tonight it is where I have set up shop to get a few thoughts down before they slip away into some subterranean place in my mind.

* * *

First up. We are in the midst of a heat wave here in NYC. This is the topic du jour: the expected high temperature (95 degrees), the expected high temperature with the heat index (over 100 degrees); how disgusting this is (gross is the other word that people are using); how awful it feels (pretty awful); how to stay cool (movies and malls); and how else to beat the heat (drink lots of water, eat lots of bananas, stay indoors in air-conditioning etc etc etc…).

Since I have been spending more and more time in Florida especially in the summer, I have developed the view that 95 degrees in NYC is not the same as 95 degrees in Florida. In spite of the fact that the thermometer reads 95 degrees in both places, 95 degrees in Florida is much, much hotter than 95 degrees in NY. I can’t explain it to my NY friends because they can’t stop talking about how hot it is. And how disgusting it feels.

I, on the other hand, feel great! It’s 95 degrees but it’s not really 95 degrees. I love this weather! Yes, I know I am biased. I hate the cold. I love the sun. I’d take this any day over a cold wind and 25 degrees. But still, I ask my New Yorker friends, it is necessary to complain this much about the heat?

It has occurred to me that the Mason-Dixon boundary line is still alive and intact, and remains the great dividing line, certainly in weather temperament (if not everything else!). If anyone south of the Mason Dixon line can’t deal with snow, then it seems that anyone north of it can’t deal with heat. So there you have it: North and South are even. Though I don’t think that is of any comfort to my northern friends who are sweltering and melting and feeling like they are being gypped out of precious summer days because all they can do to beat the heat is to stay indoors. To this I would respond: head south, go way down south below the Mason Dixon line. In fact, head to south Florida, or Miami at 25 degrees latitude to be precise. Spend a few days there, and then head back north to NYC at 41 degrees latitude and revel in our glorious summer!

* * *

Speaking of summer, one of the things that I love about summer is the switch to crazily fun nail polish colors, colors that can hold their own against a brash, hot, summer sun. This summer I found a delicious sparkly blue-green teal. Essie makes it and what I love about it is that it immediately transports me to some paradisal tropical island. (On this island, btw, it also really hot. Maybe even 15 degrees latitude hot!) I am lying on a white sand beach and being lulled by the gentle waves of the clear, blue-green sparkling waters, the same color as the color on my nails. For a nail polish color to do that. Wow!

Of course nothing is perfect. What I don’t love about the color is its name: Trophy Wife.

I didn’t notice it when I bought it because I was buying for the color. I only took note later because a friend of mine saw it and loved it and then when we both figured out that Essie had decided to call it “Trophy Wife,” we were horrified. I guess that there are women out there who want to be trophy wives, but it is a repugnant idea to me. Certainly and definitively, she and I are not among them. Neither of us could imagine wearing anything promoting the idea of a trophy wife.

So I am happy to report that we have taken the initiative and re-named it “Mermaid Goddess.” We can’t yet report that we have triumphed over Trophy Wife, but we are very hopeful, working with Mermaid Goddess, to turn any Trophy Wife into a real, thinking, and strong woman. Now that is  and would truly be a very powerful nail polish color!

* * *

Speaking of strong women, can we move to strong girls? I am so excited to report that my children’s book, Erica from America: Swimming from Europe to Africa is close to being finished! (For a sneak peak at the cover, visit the tab The Children’s Book on my website.) I have been working with my illustrator and designer and publisher very intensely for the past two months and we think, we hope, that Erica from America will be ready for sale before the Olympics!

I am terrifically excited because this has been a project long in the making. The manuscript has been sitting on my bookshelf for over eleven years. The little girls and boys I read it to eleven years ago are now in college! I suspect they won’t remember me reading it to them or remember the story, but it is my hope that some good memory of the book broke off and has remained in them, even if only in their subconscious. And even if not, then I am still excited to finally bring this story out, with its beautiful illustrations, to a whole new group of children. These children, after all, are our legacy. These are the people who will be here after we are gone. May we give them great stories to remember and worthy goals to aspire to.

* * *

And on the topic of good stories, I am proud to say that I have finished all four of the Neapolitan novels by the elusive and anonymous Elena Ferrante. All 1,716 pages on my iPad Apple books. It was an interesting read, but it started out slowly. So slowly, in fact, that it took me three wks to read the first 250 pages and I was dubious that I was ever going to finish it. But boy, did I underestimate Elena Ferrante. By Saturday evening of last wkend, I had gotten up to page seven hundred and change, and I was trying to figure out whether I could finish the remaining two and a half books before I had to go back to work on Monday.

This was the calculation that was going through the the back of my mind: with 1,000 pages left, if I read 100 pages an hour, then I can finish this in 10 hours. But I need to allow for some slower reading to savor the books, the language, the story, and, most of all, the friendship between Lenu and Lila. So let’s allow 12-14 hours. So yes, I can finish it all before Monday. But in order to do so, the rest of wkend has to be dedicated to reading it. No eating, no working out, no working (which I did need to do), no swimming, no errands, no cleaning up the apartment, no doing laundry, and no watching the last open of the British Open (which was universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest last rounds in a major ever).

In the end, I was ok with all of that. I was completely mesmerized with Lenu and Lila and their little Italy. I read until I fell asleep on Saturday. I woke up at 6:30a on Sunday and immediately started to read, in bed. I read all day. Mostly in bed and on the sofa. I didn’t get dressed. I didn’t even go out to get my coffee from Starbucks! As I expected, I did nothing of the things that I had planned or needed to do. But I was successful. I finished the quartet of novels around five o’clock on Sunday. Thank god, enough time to get to the gym and get a run in.

I felt a great sense of satisfaction when done. And not just from finishing the books. But mainly because Elena Ferrante drew me in. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Lenu and Lila and Nino and Rino and Enzo and the lost child and all the other great characters in the story. About Naples and Italy and growing up in a poor Italian family. Afterwards I felt (as is typical of the way I feel after binging on a book or a TV series) completely spent and empty and wondering how I was going to build a bridge back from their wonderful, fantastical world to my own reality. I have never done drugs, but now I wonder if it isn’t a similar feeling: having to come down from an intense high and realizing that your own life is still going on and you’ve now got to figure out a way to jump back in and get back to normal.

Just about a wk has passed since I finished the books. Today I did all the errands that I meant to do last wkend. I am back, thoroughly, into my life.

* * *

And so I come around to my life. That means that I am back in the pool again. Finally.

It is hard to believe, but it has been over a month since I have been in the pool. Most of it was due to being away and vacation and then being busy. However, procrastination also contributed. I was going to swim on Monday, but had to stay late at work, so no go. Tuesday I was meeting a friend for drinks, so that was out. Wednesday, I was going to go but I was tired and just wanted to go home after work. And I did. Thursday I was late at work and also another friend had come into town so I met him for drinks instead of the pool. I thought about going on Friday, but I never swim on Friday in NYC, so that didn’t happen. And finally it was Saturday. Five whole days of procrastination and no swimming. I told myself I had to get into the pool.

I was out most of the afternoon running the errands that I hadn’t done last wk. When I was done, I looked at my watch and it was 3:30p. I thought about how easy it would be to go home and take a nap. Or slip into a restaurant and sit at the bar and have a glass of wine and write. Or to head to the nearest Starbucks and order one of their delicious cold brews and read the article about Martha Nussbaum in last wk’s New Yorker. But some little, and silent, but also very powerful, voice, deep inside me, urged me go to the pool before doing anything else. I wondered where this little, silent, powerful voice emanated from. Was it from within me? Or was it instead some higher order voice simply lodged within me? And if so, was its only purpose in life to get me to the pool? I didn’t have the answer, but wherever it came from, I couldn’t quiet it. In a concession to myself and to the voice, I hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to 91st and York, to Asphalt Green. To the pool.

This is the longest period of time I have been out of the water in a very long time. At least in the past five years. In fact, I think the last time I was out of the water for this long of a time was when I was training for Comrades in 2009. Back then, when people asked me if I was swimming, I had the perfectly reasonable excuse of saying, “No. I am not swimming because I am training for a 56-mile run.” But this time, I don’t feel like I have any excuse at all. All I can say this time is that I got busy at work and that I was on vacation and then I came back and was busy at work again. So no, I haven’t been swimming. And wow, would you look at that? Already a month has gone by!

I have mellowed though in the past five years. Because today, all this sounds so reasonable. So normal. Whereas five years ago, I would have felt lazy and incompetent if I had to admit that I hadn’t been swimming month without any Herculean explanation. But now, the answer is, “No, I haven’t been swimming.” And it’s not because I have been training for a 100-mile trail race or that I’m training for another Ironman triathlon. It’s simply that I’ve been busy. I think, for once in my life, I am beginning to understand that that is life.

Nevertheless, I was happy to be back in the water. I miss swimming when I’m not swimming. I miss the horizontal-ness. I miss the weightlessness. I miss the rotation of the body. I miss the dedicated effort to breathing. I miss the feeling of gliding in the water. The feeling of stretching out and the ability to participate in a 3-D world. I miss, so much, the water itself.

I definitely felt the effect of not swimming for over 30 days. That was not such a happy feeling. But I was happy, even if I was slow.

Outside it was hot. It was summer! I was back in the water, wearing my Mermaid Goddess nail polish, and, if not quite mermaid or goddess, definitely swimming and well on my way to being normal.

26 Jun

Summer Sporting Season Is Here!

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13438838_10153763506277183_7394456432051238323_nIt is late June. The summer solstice has come and gone this wk and we are in the thick of summer sports: the NHL finals finished up early in June; the NBA finals concluded last wk (delivering Cleveland its first championship since a loaf of bread costs 20 cents!); the French Open concluded in early June and we are preparing for Wimbledon (the v exciting news is that Djokovic is in the hunt for a calendar year Grand Slam and I have the odds on him doing exactly that so definitely worth watching); the U.S. Open is done (congratulations to Dustin Johnson who closeted some disappointing ghosts of his past lost championships) and it will be the British Open in two weeks; and then of course there is the Tour de France, arguably the most underrated grueling of athletic events. This year we are not only in the thick of it, but we are literally wading through the thickest of the thick. In addition to the normal summer thick, there is the Copa America (which I had no idea was even going to happen until it was suddenly happening on U.S. soil); the Euro Cup (probably the second biggest soccer—sorry football—tournament next to the World Cup); and then the most exciting of them all: the Summer Olympics in Rio.

If I was always a little bit of a summer sports junkie, this soccer and Olympic plus year are just deadly. If I was already glued to the TV watching tennis and golf and the peleton as well as the occasional baseball game, now it’s soccer and the Olympics. But the Olympics aren’t just the 17 days in early August. The Olympics means Olympic trials plus the Olympics in August. So today, off-sports junkies (by that I mean, non-baseball fanatics) can watch the final of the Copa America, quarterfinal matches for the Euro cup, the U.S. Women gymnastics championships (Go Simone Biles!!), and Olympic trials for diving, along with the first day of the swimming trials. Btw, the swimming trials end Sunday, two days after the Track and Field trials begin, which also overlap with the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Trials. Oh lord! So many great sporting events to watch. What to do?!!

(And let’s, btw, not forget about that all critical and important political race that is also occurring this summer…I, for one, am trying to keep as much distance as possible from all those unfortunate political shenanigans.)

NBC is broadcasting the swimming, diving, and gymnastics in prime time this wk. I suspect the track and field trials will be broadcast prime time as well next wk. It seems appropriate that I spent all of yesterday at a swim meet here in Florida yesterday. But now that we enter swimming, gymnastic, and track and field trials and head into Wimbledon, the tour de France, and the British Open and then the Olympics, I wonder how in the world I am going to have the time to fit in my own training amidst this steady stream of great sporting events.

It’s not for lack of discipline. After many ultra-distance events, I know how to get out and train. And it’s not for lack of motivation. After all, watching these elite athletes is inspirational and motivational. In fact, all I want to do after watching the trials is to jump back into training.

But it’s the time! I can handle one or two sporting events. That would certainly motivate me and give me the time to get back out and train. But it’s not just one of two. This summer it’s swimming and diving and gymnastics and tennis and cycling and track and field and golf…it’s a full time job just watching all of these great athletes.

And for that matter, forget about the question of how am I going to find to time to do my own training. There’s the larger question of how in the world I am going to have the time to doing everything else on my plate outside of training. Oh lord is right!

Btw – just a little aside for the swimming – this is the first year that the Olympic Swimming Trials have been completely sold out for every night. That’s 14,000 tickets for tonight and the next six nights. Wow! These trials are in Omaha, Nebraska, not exactly the most bustling metropolitan center, so that means that people actually made a conscious decision to travel to Omaha to watch the swimmer. This suggests an increasing popularity of swimming, which is great and which makes sense. I’ve seen it at the USMS meets as the rosters have only grown in the past few years and the competition has gotten very stiff.

What is one to make of this increased attention to swimming? Certainly, Michael Phelps, and then later Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin, had a large part in this. I would love to think that Katie Ledecky also had some part in this, but her name brand outside of swimmers is right now far less than Phelps, Lochte, or Franklin (I am hoping that changes significantly after the Olympics because she is truly will go down as one of the great swimmers of all time). I also have to think that the increased popularity of triathlon has also helped. Which is somewhat ironic since a little bit of a rift has developed between triathletes and swimmers. But for now, I’ll leave that for later contemplation.

I would note that the swimming boards have been buzzing recently about the difficulty of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. If the Tour de France is the most underestimated grueling sporting event, the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials could be argued is the most underrated competitive event, simply because of the strength of U.S. swimming. This could just be dismissed as self-serving commentary. Even Rowdy Gaines noted in his commentary today that the NCAA swimming championships produce more Olympic caliber athletes than the Olympics themselves. But if that really is the case, then it is worth noting. It’s certainly puts a lot of pressure on all the swimmers, and much more so for the top 10 or 15. Especially since their glory days only come around every four years. So in all, and regardless of whether they are the most underrated competitive event, the fact that Trials are sold out is great news. And great news a long time in coming.

All this is a long way of saying that I am hereby officially checking out of training and of any other responsibility until after the Olympics and the U.S. Open (tennis, that is) officially closes the summer season of sports on September 11. (Ok – maybe not completely checked out, but you get the picture.)

It’s going to be a great summer. Go out and revel in the games wherever you are and whatever they are!

18 Jun

Making Time for Summer & Time

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Saturday, 18 June 2016. 1:05p
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Lkng south from the lower end of Central Park

Sitting on a large embedded granite rock structure on the Southwest side of Central Park, looking south towards the new thin stick of a skyscraper next to the Essex House. Today can only be described as a beautiful early summer day. Warm, sunny, clear blue skies and it seems as if everyone is outside soaking it all up. Bikers, walkers, runners. People riding in the horse carriages and bike taxis. Strangely there aren’t a lot of dogs though I am sure it is just a lull right now. And tons of babies and children. It seems everywhere I look there is another person pushing a baby carriage or walking with their children. Pictures cannot do the day justice (my pictures anyway, even if I am taking them on the iPhone 6s). And anyway, the pictures won’t capture the faint sweet odor of wisteria or the soft conversations taking place all over.

I cannot remember the last time I was in Central Park—at least a year, possibly even two! So today, sitting here on the rock people-watching and remembering all those runs and bike rides I did around the park, really feels like one luxurious nostalgia trip. I used to know every inch of the 6-mile road, having traversed it over and over and over again on foot and on bike. People often ask me what I think of when I am running for such a long time and it is amazing how mundane those thoughts can be: focusing on the next stretch of pavement and looking for the subtle gradations of the rocks, or the curves in the road, or the white traffic lines and etching those into memory.

On the granite rock, people-watching

On the granite rock, people-watching

It used to be that I could come out to the park and be reasonably assured that I would see someone I would know from the running, biking or triathlon community. I loved that aspect of the park because it made me feel as though I owned the park. Of course I didn’t, but it was as it was supposed to be: one big common back yard for New York City, and we were all out just out for a run, a bike ride, a walk, or a baseball game. Just little pieces of community strung together and suddenly we are all in each other’s back yard. Having fun.

Now I think about all those hours spent training in the park (that one 34-mile training run on a cold spring day in 2009 especially comes to mind) and I can’t help but wonder where I found all the time to do that back then. The corollary question also arises: what am I doing with all of that time now?

I’ve always heard that time seems to collapse with age. Not only does it seem like there are never enough hours in the day, but the years start to go by faster and faster. As I think about where those training hours have gone, that certainly has held true for me. If, at six years old, the summers stretched ahead of me like infinity, at 46-years old, the summers simply bring a changing of the weather, not a glorious euphoria of possibility. For me in the past few years as well, the summers have become my busiest time at work. So now if the summer days stretch out long in front of me, it’s only as a reminder that I have too many things to do and not enough time to get everything done.

Orchid sculpture at Southeast entrance to Central Park

Orchid sculpture at Southeast entrance to Central Park

But today, I force myself not to have any of that on this day, a day that is too beautiful for pictures. Possibly even too beautiful for words. And maybe even too beautiful for time itself, who must certainly also want to stop for just a minute and want to come over and sit down beside me on this hard grey rock and, even if just for a few minutes, let us both remember the good old days of summer stretching out ahead of us.

07 Oct

South Florida – Five Years Already?!

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Wednesday 7 October 2015.

FLL 5Sitting here in my bedroom in South Florida in the late evening (just about past my bedtime…) and listening to the hard rain as it comes down the gutters and the side of the house. I love hearing the rain like this. It reminds me of my time in Cape Town, when I had rented that little apartment at 159 Waterkant Street with the tin roof and when it would rain it would be impossible to ignore the insistent patter of the rain drops. Here in Florida I am excited by the rain because it is good for the plants–the plants that I have planted and have wished to grow and thrive. Yes, a heavy rain in the late evening (not during the day) is just fine with me.

We have had some spectacular days since I arrived last Friday. I think the weather has been absolutely perfect. In the low seventies in the morning, getting up into the mid-eighties in the afternoon, and then some rain scattered throughout the day. It is still hot in the middle of the day in the sun, but not unbearably so (like it was in late August). The humidity has come off and the sky has been beautiful.

But even down here in the land of endless summer, I can tell that autumn is here, just by looking at the long face of the paler clouds in the sky. I have talked to people back in New York and they have told me that it is perfect weather. I beg to differ. They have to put on coats in the morning. And closed toe shoes. And there is a chill in the morning and evening and it is not possible anymore to wear shorts and a tank top. No, in the north it is fall definitely. And I am now a warm weather person. That is what five years in South Florida will do to you. I listen to them tell me how beautiful it is in New York, and I don’t say anything.

So yes, I am coming up on my five-year anniversary of my house in South Florida. I have spent a lot of time and effort in this house and garden and a part of me is surprised that it is only five years. But then I look back through time and remember where I started five years ago. Time will pass here and I will just have to go along with it.

Because I am coming up on the five-year anniversary, I am also coming up on another bill for hurricane insurance. And because this is South Florida, the bill is not exactly inexpensive. For five years I have dutifully paid the bill and thus have slept well through the nights knowing that if a hurricane came through I would have insurance to rebuild the house if the hurricane took it out.

But since I have been in South Florida, I have experienced two hurricanes, both of which have been in New York. My house in Florida has stood the same. Even this year, we had Hurricane Erika threaten us, but she eventually petered out before she even got close. And then just this past week, Hurricane Joaquin missed Florida but set all of the Northeast coast into a tizzy. Why, I wonder, am I paying hurricane insurance in Florida when all the storms are hitting New York?!

I called my real estate agent for his thoughts. He has lived down here for thirty years now and also has many properties to worry about so I think he will have some good advice. “It’s all about your risk tolerance,” he wrote back to me.

“Of 2012-04-02 15.13.43course,” I think, when I read his response. “Risk tolerance. That’s not just about the hurricanes coming to South Florida or New York. Risk tolerance – that’s essentially life.”

It’s a good problem to have. Sitting down here in South Florida listening to the rain, and contemplating my risk tolerance for hurricanes and whatever else may come through in my life…

29 Sep

29 Sept 2015 – Super General Assembly!

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Super, Blood, & Harvest Moon just waiting to be eclipsed.

The super, blood, and harvest moon has come, been eclipsed and gone. And, coincidentally this year, so has the UN General Assembly, which was also supercharged this year. More so than I can remember in past years, and so much so that I might even go out on a limb and call it a super, blood, and harvest UN General Assembly year, only to be repeated ever 30 or so years. Ok, I exaggerate (probably on account of the fact that I just finished Bossypants by Tina Fey today and I have just this little desire to be as funny as she is). But this year still carried extra weight with the Pope making an appearance and then a big deal seemed to be made of President Obama’s speech followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech and then their agree not to agree meeting that followed.

Ok – let me be clear. The only reason I am talking so much about the UN General Assembly is because it intrudes upon my life every September since I live half a block away from the UN complex and every September for three days I have to show an ID to walk down my street to my apartment and undress and get into bed.

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Hard to see, but believe me, it is hard to walk down my block to my apartment during the UNGA!

Tons of barricades and policeman descend on my neighborhood, as well as hoards of people with lanyards and cameras looking very important and also waiting to show IDs to walk down my street, the only difference being that they only come here once a year and walk over to the UN whereas I live here. And because of this (yes, I will admit this now) I feel a little superior. I may not be a world-traveled journalist or an important country VIP with a special pass to the UNGA, but I am a bona fide New Yorker who resides on 46th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, half a block away from the UN. I have a right to be here!

But…let’s be honest. If I were living only 5 block north or west or south (not East because then I would be in the East River) I would have no care for the UNGA because it would not impinge on my lifestyle at all. Somehow due to random luck and chance, I ended up on this block. And so here I am, every September, forced to contemplate the UNGA, simply because I must remember to bring ID to enter my street to go home. It is a gentle reminder every year that life is an odd combination of your own making coming into contact with lives of other people’s makings. It is not a bad thing. In fact, it is quite good. Random encounters of our pre-planned lives with other unknown pre-planned lives are what move us out of our expected trajectory and propel us into a new direction. Change is sometimes not welcome, but change, ultimately, is a good thing. We must adjust and adapt or risk being left behind.

Today was a tough day at work. Letting someone go, even if it is completely justified performance-wise, it is never easy to do. I wanted to go run during lunch to get everything out of my mind and come back with a clean slate. But I bagged it all. As I was getting ready to go run, I realized I had too much work to do. Also I told myself that I this is my off-season, so it’s ok to back down to one workout a day! (Oh! I know how idiotic that sounds!) But it’s true. Sometimes I have to tell myself to back off from the workouts. And that’s what I did today. And that’s what I will continue to do until the new year. And that is good for me. This is a time of finding balance and moderation. Next year as I gear up for the next swimming season, there will be plenty of times to do double-workouts!

And also, I have been tired from my idiotic sleeping schedule, so I was also physically tired from having gone to bed at 11p, and then woken up at 12:30a, 2a, 3:10a, 4:05a, and then finally with the alarm at 5:30a. Needless to say, after the day and the highly interrupted sleep, I was also ready to bag the swim workout after work. But I had promised Andrey, my trusted swim partner in NYC, to swim tonight. So that was that. Even though I wanted to completely flake out, I went. And in the process, I ran into Patrick, my old swim coach on the subway. What I nice surprise! (Or maybe coincidence?) Horrible subway system and delays aside. It was great to catch up with him.

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Andey & I – after finishing a good workout!

I got up to the pool deck at 6:34 and managed to jump in at 6:40p. Andrey was actually early at 6:50p. I had hoped to get at least 1,600 before he arrived, but I was only at 800 when I saw him stroll out on deck. I was having a terrible time in the lane. The age groupers were doing stroke and they were kicking up quite a wave. And then the fast lane was populated with wanna-be fast swimmers who had some idea of lane etiquette, but nevertheless were still reeking havoc with my workout. When Andrey finally showed up, I told him I was done!

Of course I wasn’t. He got in. Warmed up. Then we started on our no-breathers. Another thing I would never do on my own. So tonight is a thanks to Andrey for getting me to the pool and getting me to do eight no-breather underwaters! And yes, tonight is a thanks the UNGA for keeping me abreast of public and world affairs! And a thanks to the super, blood, and harvest moon for providing a beautiful image to experience without any thought. No thought, just emotion.

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Super, blood, and harvest moon just about eclipsed…

Tonight’s workout. Warm-up was 400 free, 400 pull, 400 kick. (Andrey showed up after my 400 pull). Then it was 2x (4x [25 no-breathers, 25 easy on 1:00], 200 breathe every 5 strokes). Then we stopped and kvetched about the lane swimmers, especially the obnoxious one who seemed determined to sit at the end of lane and only go on the heels of someone else. Andrey and I had a good laugh about that. And then I suggested 4×125: 75 stroke or IM/50 free. That would get us another 500. With a 200 warm-down, that would get me to 2,700 and Andrey to 2,000. Not a bad workout for two somewhat reluctant swim partners, neither of whom had wanted to go to the pool at all.

22 Sep

The Autumnal Equinox

by Erica L. Moffett

Today is the Autumnal Equinox. I only know about this because the Writer’s Almanac reported that “today marks the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the first day of fall and the point in which the Sun is directly above the equator and the hours of day and night are nearly equal. In the Southern Hemisphere, today marks the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.”

So first I have to say to all my friends in the Southern Hemisphere (John, Otto, Lewis, Herda, Adrian, Ryan…), Happy Spring!! I am jealous already!

I learned later that today is technically not the Autumnal Equinox. I went out for drinks with my boss after work and told him that we should toast to the Autumnal Equinox. But he corrected me. “The autumnal equinox actually occurs at 4:22a this morning,” he said. “So officially today is not the Autumnal Equinox…” Normally I am a detail-oriented person, but I decided that I would let this one slide.

Perhaps the most distressing thing to me about autumn and the quickening of days and the chilling of temperature is the uncomfortable feet. Today it was 58 degrees when I woke up. I got dressed. I put on my open-toed, broad-footed summer sandals. Then I thought better of it. I took them off and looked around my closet for appropriate shoes for the Autumnal Equinox. All that faced me were 2 3/4-inch grey and black-heeled pumps and boots. Very nice (and somewhat costly I might add!) grey and black-heeled pumps and boots. Unfortunately all of which smushed my forefeet and caused great bouts of pain while walking in them.

“No! I thought. “It can’t already be here! That’s not fair.”

Alas, it was already here. Back in NY (not Florida), pushing my foot down into an alien shoe that had no care whether my foot was comfortable.  And believe me, my foot was not comfortable. The nerve ending that had been aggravated several years ago when I had trained for and completed two and a half marathons in two weeks suddenly came back. The shoes were too tight. My soles couldn’t breathe. And moreover, they didn’t even match my outfit. So on top of incredible foot discomfort, I didn’t even get the benefit of feeling dressed to the nines! Instead it was a nonchalant blasé feeling that pervaded. “Not exactly,” I thought, “the way I want to start off the Autumnal Equinox!”  

But there I was. Shoes or no. Autumnal equinox and all. The sun and moon would move forward (or rather around). I could choose to move forward with them. I could perhaps decide not to move forward with them at all. But that was an absurd thought. The sun and moon and stars would move forward regardless of whether I was ready or not.

So then the question was whether I would go willingly or unwillingly. Would I choose to be swept up and away into their larger cosmic rhythms or would I choose to stay and stand stubbornly here on earth, mired in an uncomfortable shoe debate?

I looked wistfully at my beautiful, beloved open-toed wide-soled sandals. I smushed my feet into those autumnal shoes and gingerly stepped forward into the world. Oh! Pain in the foot there is!

Oh! Pain in the foot be gone! Spring Equinox!

Save me as quickly as you can!

12 Sep

Weepy at the U.S. Open Finals…

I have just finished watching the 2015 U.S. Open Women’s Championship match and I am hunting around the apartment for tissues because I am just a little bit weepy. Weepy for the oldest first-time grand-slam winner. Weepy because she won when she was not supposed to, and weepy because she announced her retirement on court right just after accepting the tournament prize. But most of all weepy because this was a real-life Cinderella story.

How refreshing is that? Especially—or rather most of all—because these two weeks were supposed to be all about Serena Williams. And if it wasn’t going to be Serena, it certainly wasn’t supposed to be Flavia Pannetta and Roberta Vinci. Who?

Exactly. That’s the Cinderella story. Two players, with just about zero chance of getting to the finals of the U.S. Open get to the final of the U.S. Open. A dream come true.

This was Flavia Pannetta’s 49th grand slam. She had never made it to a final in all those 49 tries. Her previous best result was the semifinalsin the U.S. Open in 2013. She is 33 years and six months old. She was the #23 seed. No one even picked her to go to the final, much less carry away the trophy.

As for Roberta Vinci, one year younger and very close friend to Flavia. Roberta wasn’t even ranked! And she got to the semifinals to play against Serena Williams. A match that had her at 300 to one odds of winning. She had never won a set against Serena in the prior four times they had played. But then. Suddenly she wins a set. Then she holds her nerve. And then it’s two sets and she’s now in the final. An improbable all-Italian final for which the Italian prime minister even had to fly over to watch.

So there it was. The 2015 U.S. womens final—one for the old ones. But it’s not just about the old ones. It’s actually more about the underdogs. These were underdogs like you couldn’t even imagine. And the fact that they went out and won is enough to make me weepy. Weepy with happiness for them, and weepy with excitement for the possibilities of all the other underdogs in the world.

Let’s not discus the odds or the luck or whatever other reason you want to attribute for their improbably success. This is solely about their heart and guts and ability to seize the chance when they had it presented to them. And it’s about our ability to embrace them as they allow us to see the possibilities in ourselves.

It’s hard to imagine a better U.S. Open final (especially when we will see the number one and number two male players fight it out tomorrow for the Men’s title). But today, it is all about the old Italian women and the tenacity of the underdog. Let us all weep with joy!

24 May

Memorial Day Wkend Musings

I saw today in the paper that the Jack Shainman Gallery (http://www.jackshainman.com/school/) is presenting the artist El Anatsui, and I got all excited and started to work out when I could get down the gallery this week. Unfortunately I subsequently discovered that the exhibit is at their space in Kinderhook, New York, about 130 miles north of the city, which, in all likelihood, means that I won’t be seeing it. I am intensely disappointed, only because El Anatsui is that good. I first saw his work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art two years ago and it literally took my breath away.

What makes his work so good? With the caveat that I am just a layperson in the sophisticated art world, I would say that his work is fresh, clean, vibrant, and compelling. He started out working with clay and wood, but recently his major works are large, even epic, hangings which are made out of discarded metal bottle tops, and which have been flattened down and turned into tiny little strips that are then re-worked into the hanging, all held together by copper wire. It does not sound like a promising list of ingredients to make something monumental. And yet…

El Anatsui weaves these metal pieces together into vast canvases that look so much like thick cloth tapestries that you have to get really close to see that it is actually metal. The moods in these tapestries range from very light and shimmery (I recall one piece that was mostly white and gray with small open connecting circles; it was something I would have used as a window sheer), to historical (I recall several pieces about the history of Africa), to solemnly regal. The piece that took my breath away was done mostly in rich purple hues and had such presence I immediately felt it should be the great curtain that rises and falls at the Metropolitan Opera. It was completely unexpected. And it was stunning.

Note that in recalling all this, I am going from memory from two years ago. Some of the details of these pieces may not be entirely correct. But I think the smaller details are less important than the overall impressions.

Earlier this year, the Venice Biennial awarded El Anatsui the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award, which sounds impressive. Layperson that I am, I don’t know how meaningful this is. What I do know is that his work is definitely worth going to see, and anyone who just happens to be in the Kinderhook neighborhood should make a point to stop in and experience it in all its grandeur.

* * *

2015-05-23 21.56.40

Inside Marc Forgione Restaurant

Yesterday I was sitting at the bar at Marc Forgione restaurant at 134 Reade Street, waiting for Andrey, my swim partner, to join me for drinks and dinner. While waiting, I was writing in my journal and lamenting that I have not been writing much at all. I have decided not to be too hard on myself since I have been very busy at work. I’ve have also been working on getting a children’s book ready for publication, and in the time left over, I have been swimming a fair amount in my never-ending quest to lower my swim times.

I have also been traveling. The most recent trip was back down to Florida to take two writing workshops at the Miami-Dade College Miami Writers Institute. On that Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoon, I and about 25 other people listened to Lynne Barrett (www.lynnebarrett.com), a professor at FIU, discuss plot and structure. Then on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings, Kate Christensen (www.katechristensen.wordpress.com) led a workshop on writing memoirs.

It was such a good use of time. Lynne Barrett was so masterful at explicating plot and structure and time and characters (all stuff which I am sure any English major would have learned by sophomore year) that I came back determined to try my hand at fiction! (I’ll also take a quick side note here to recommend her collection of her short stories called Magpies. It is a thin book—her stories are very compact—but they pack a punch and leave you wanting more when you are finished.) Kate Christensen ran a much more traditional writing workshop, but was so generous and thoughtful with her conversations. With her help, I was finally able to understand how to jump over the hurdle that had been standing in my way for the past few months. I came away from both workshops awed by the quality of the other writers attending, but at the same time, inspired to come back and write.

Which makes it somewhat ironic that, two weeks after the workshops, I was at the bar at Marc Forgione writing in my journal about the fact that I wasn’t writing.

“Ok – stop this,” I told myself. “Start small, but start somewhere.”

It was 5 o’clock p.m., still early on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. It was, hands down, the most glorious day in New York this year, a day when even I didn’t wish to be back in Florida. The restaurant had just opened and I was the first person in. They had opened up all the French windows and the cool inside and warm outside blended together easily. Families and couples were wandering by and would recognize the people coming the other way and stop to talk. The dusk light was dreamy on their conversations. Some more people wandered in. The bar started to fill up. I took some notes. I thought some more. I had another sip of wine.

“Maybe a haiku,” I told myself. That’s small. That’s somewhere.

* * *

Memorial Day Weekend Haiku (from the bar at Marc Forgione) 

Spring! Good thing Barkeep
I’m not. Else we’d all be drunk
Off vodka straight up!

* * *

Saturday afternoon - one of the best days of the year so far - looking West over the Hudson River

Saturday of Memorial Day Wkend – looking West over the Hudson River

Sunday evening, and it has been another beautiful day in New York on this Memorial Day wkend. Moreover, there is still tomorrow! I was going to wish everyone a great Memorial Day, but it now also occurs to me that I should take a moment and remember those who died in service. After all, that is the holiday tomorrow, not the holiday of (Callooh! Callay!) “it’s another day off work!”

It seems odd for me to write this because I have never been one to talk much about the military or advocate for or against service. I have no immediate relatives who have died in service. Nor any close (or even distant) friends. So it seems rather foreign territory. But at the same time I know of the territory. I read about it every day in the newspapers and magazines. I listen to it on TV. I hear the stories on the radio. These are real people who died, often very young kids who had their whole lives ahead of them. Their families back home are left with only the memories, and I can only imagine the grief and whatever else must be mixed in with that emotion: pride; confusion; sadness; anger…

So as we go about our day tomorrow, we should all stop at one point and remember those who died in service. After all, start small. Start somewhere.

15 Dec

12.15.12 – Consumed by Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook Elementary School is all the news. It is the rage. It is the topic du jour. It raises so many questions. And many of them not good.

 

15 Sep

In Memoriam

11 September 2012. Such a beautiful night on this 11th anniversary of 9/11. The memorials were quite muted this year – no public speakers, just the reading of the names by the family members and a moment of silence before the opening bell. If one didn’t know this was the anniversary it would be hard to find out from the daily clues. It’s almost as if the city has put it behind us, boxed it up and stored it in the attic. Even the newspapers hardly mentioned it. But the city knows. It is buried deep within its city bones. Even though we cleaned up and carted the dust and ashes of the twin towers and the blood and bones of the victims, the city carries this tragedy deep within. For those who lived through the day we will never forget. For those who have yet to be born and who will only hear the stories of the airplanes flying into the buildings and the great fires and people jumping to their deaths and the final collapse of those two buildings, they will hear of the anniversary and think about it as I think of Pearl Harbor: a momentous date in our country’s history but nothing that draws any emotion. It’s hard to imagine that all future generations will simply not know the fear that we felt that day and the days afterward. But then I remind myself, this is just an egocentric, narcissistic view. Forgetting and moving on from great events is just the natural course of life. The one thing that gives me comfort tonight is the knowledge that the fear and terror and heroism that was born that day is buried deep within this city and will not be forgotten.