Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Doing it all. Or not.

If you know me, you know that I have a laaaaaaaaarge range of interests and roles and responsibilities. At the moment, I'm juggling my roles as a mom/partner/daughter/sister/friend/etc with my job as a high school English teacher, with my hobbies and interests (running, lifting, knitting, reading, blogging/social media, makeup), along with just the everyday responsibility of keeping myself healthy and alive. (You have no idea how often I forget to eat or to go to bed on time.)

So the one question that inevitably comes up often is "How do you do it all? Where do you find the time?"

I've thought long and hard about how to answer this question, and here's what I came up with:

I actually don't. I don't do it all. Not at the same time, anyway.

I look at my life as a collection of rotating pieces, and at any given time, some pieces are in action and other pieces are not. If I tried to get everything firing all at the same time, I would drive myself mad (and probably never sleep). Life is a lot of give-and-take, and on top of that, I have the incredible privilege of having many supportive individuals in my life who make things more manageable. You know the saying "It takes a village to raise a child"? You don't stop needing your village after you're no longer a child.

So, sometimes someone else steps in and takes Jolie for a few hours (or even overnight). And sometimes I pick up dinner that someone else has prepared instead of cooking dinner myself. And sometimes (actually, all the time) someone else is in charge of telling me how much weight to lift and how many times. And someone else shows up to run with me because I can't always muster up the will to go alone.

And sometimes I'm not running at all (or at least, not in active training mode). And sometimes I have to skip going to the gym. And sometimes I don't pick up my knitting for a while. And sometimes I take a break between books. And sometimes, everything gets pushed off because I'm in desperate need of a good nap.

At any given time, there's something that I'm not doing, but I try not to spend too much time not doing that thing. I don't want to spend too much time not taking care of my kid. I don't want to spend too much time not preparing lesson plans and grading. I don't want to spend too much time not running, not knitting, or not sleeping. But I do, in fact, allow myself some time to not do these things. Because I have to. You cannot be all things to all people all the time. Breaks are healthy and necessary, and in fact, they really do help the heart grow fonder.

In short, I don't do it all, all the time. I'm sorry if that's not as satisfying an answer as what you may have been expecting :) I keep a close eye on how I'm feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically, and whatever needs to be put on the backburner goes, and it doesn't bother me because I never put anything there for very long. So yeah. That's my big life tip - give yourself a break sometimes, from any given thing, at any given moment. And don't beat yourself up about it.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

I am Ulysses

There is tons of advice out there for new runners, especially around this time of year. Anyone who is interested can find any number of articles and training plans about how to get started running.

What they don't always tell you is just how many times you might end up being a "beginning runner." For whatever reason - illness, injury, etc - you might find yourself starting over from scratch again and again. Or maybe you aren't starting over, but maybe it's your first time training for a particular distance or terrain or climate.

I'm finding myself starting over again right now for the umpteenth time in my life, and each time, it does get easier. Each time, I know myself a little better. Each time, I want it a little bit more. I don't have the most linear trajectory of progress when it comes to my running, but the fact that I have achieved some pretty lofty goals makes me more eager to try my best to get back to my previous personal level of excellence.

But of course, my reasons for starting over are different now too. Knowing what I know now about the state of my knee, it becomes imperative that I take more caution than ever before, or else there won't be any more "starting over" - there won't be any more running at all.

So, it's hard. As it so often goes, I'm torn between my head and my heart - my head telling me, "Be careful, you idiot!" and my heart telling me to soar.

What I'm realizing, of course, is that since my body has essentially "reset" and I've had to start over, my goals have to start over too. I know we love to hang onto our former moments of glory, but I should probably impose a statute of limitations on my PRs, right? To quote Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses":

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven

I am not the same runner I used to be. It seems unfair to hold myself to numbers that a healthier (also, thinner) me accomplished two or three years ago.

But I can't help it. The part of me that whispers those PRs in my ear is the same part of me that encourages me to start over every time. Maybe it's futile to keep trying to accomplish goals that my body may no longer be fit for, but I feel compelled to try.

The poem ends,

... that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Could I reasonably expect myself to settle for a quiet life of light running, any more than I could expect Odysseus to spend the rest of his life enjoying Netflix and takeout at home? 

Well, I don't really have a choice in the matter, do I? When you're "made weak by time and fate," you're awfully limited in what you can accomplish. But sometimes the whisper in my heart is more powerful than the loudest shouting in my head (or, my knee). For better or for worse.

I may never be what I once was, the adventuresome spirit willing and able to go the distance. But I won't ever give up either. Whatever small steps I have to take, I will not yield.

And if it means starting over again and again, so be it. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and the importance of art

Lines recited by another beloved actor we lost recently, Robin Williams

I woke up this morning to news that Alan Rickman had passed away, just a few days after the passing of David Bowie. Both men, in different ways, with their different talents, had a huge impact on me, and I feel like life will be a little less rich for them being gone.

We also recently lost singer Natalie Cole and BAMF Lenny Kilmeister. And I may not have been their biggest fans, but I enjoyed their (very different) music too.

This process of mourning the loss of people we never knew is kind of weird, I'll just say it. On the one hand, it feels strange to miss someone you've never met; I mean, you can't lose someone if they were never yours. On the other hand, they were "ours," in a way, weren't they? I mean, they weren't ours personally, but through their unique talents, they shared pieces of themselves with the masses. And because the way that each of us processes art is unique to us, in a way there's some aspect of each of their performances that belongs uniquely to us.

Which brings me to this - the importance of art.

I come from a(n Asian) family of computer engineers, so STEM has always been present in my life in some form. I myself was going to go into medicine, but I did a total about-face and decided to major in English. My family was a little confused about what that meant or how to explain it to my older, more traditional relatives (aside from "reading books"), so there was definitely some relief when I decided to go into teaching, because at least THERE was a concrete thing that could be explained. Because studying literature, on its own merit, was apparently a strange concept.

Don't get me wrong: STEM is important. It's what advances the world, and it's what keeps people alive. But (and I'm sure I will offend someone with this) it's not enough. At least for me, it's not enough.

I chose English because I needed literature and beauty in my life, and I am passionate about it enough to have devoted the last ten years of my life to sharing that love with others.

But on the whole, it doesn't get a lot of respect. The arts - visual art, acting, music, dance, poetry, fiction, etc. - and even the humanities (history, philosophy, other aspects of English like lit theory and scholarship) are considered frivolous and even self-indulgent, at times. They're not often respected as career choices, sometimes seen as just cute little hobbies. People tend to complain about the costs and fees charged by photographers, MUAHs, musicians, etc, and offer to pay in "exposure" rather than actually paying for the work that they do, because they don't see art as actual work.

Schools are cutting back on (or even completely defunding) their music and art programs. Even English, which is a core academic subject: everyone can agree that it's important to read and write, but the Common Core standards seem to be pushing us teachers towards including more informational literacy and LESS literature.

This is not okay.

Art is important. Art touches everyone, no matter who we are. It taps into those things that make us human, whether you are making art yourself or whether you are enjoying it. When you're a fan of someone else's art, there is a special relationship that forms between you and the artist, even if it's just in your own head. And it's something that stays with you, sometimes forever. For example, Alan Rickman isn't just an actor - he's also the face of Colonel Brandon of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and of Severus Snape of JK Rowling's Harry Potter books. He brought two absolutely beloved literary characters to life, ensuring that they will both be THAT much more memorable for his contributions. And David Bowie wasn't just a guy with a guitar - he was groundbreaking, and his music empowered me.

Where would we be without art? We'd be living, but would we be alive?

So as I sit here, raising my mug of tea in salute to two men who were masters at their respective forms of art, I urge you: Write. Draw. Sing. Recite poems. Paint. Take pictures. Play guitar. No matter how bad you think you might be at it, do it anyway, because it's important. Read books (and even fan fiction). Go to museums. Enroll your children in a theatre workshop (or enroll yourself). Go to concerts and operas and plays. Master your eyeliner. Decorate a cake. Enjoy some mindless, fun distraction-entertainment sometimes, but also make some time to watch/read/see/hear things that are difficult, that evoke sadness, anger, or guilt.

Hold on to art and don't let anyone take it away from you. Don't let anyone try to tell you that it's less worthy or less important than other pursuits.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Race recap: Hot Chocolate Run 5k in San Francisco

I don't have much to recap in terms of race performance - I literally just wanted to do this race for the jacket and the chocolate :)

I did this one two years ago and had a great time - it's fun and well-organized, and now that they offer packet mailing (for an extra fee), it made things really easy. (I just made sure to go with a friend who doesn't share my phobia of driving in San Francisco.)

I've been completely inactive for the last couple of weeks due to being on vacation and then being sick, so I haven't even been lifting, let alone running. I knew better than to attempt any outlandish feats of athleticism - I just showed up, sans watch, told myself that I'd run small portions if I felt like it, and walk when I didn't.

I ended up finishing in just under 58:00, which I feel is a victory for me, because it's right at my target walking pace and so far (six hours later), my knee is pain-free. *knock on wood* If my knee continues to feel well, then I will try adding in really short running intervals this week, because I will have cleared an important hurdle: previously, I couldn't even walk that fast or that much without hobbling around afterwards, and you can't run if you can't walk. If today's race shows that I can walk, then that's a tentative green light for running.

So yeah. Fun, quick, and chocolatey. Sad I won't be here to run it next year, but it looks like they're working on a Portland race (I assume they mean Oregon), so hopefully I'll get around to doing that 15k eventually.

Here's the jacket. I like that it's a jacket instead of the pullover we got two years ago.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Some real talk to start off the year

The horizon, hazy as ever
I've been holding off on writing a New Year's resolutions/goals post, because to be honest, I'm not sure what I want to say yet. Because if there's one thing 2015 taught me, it's that no matter what your goals are, life's curveballs can change everything.

When I started 2015, my plan was to run three marathons by the year's end. So... on the one hand, I completely failed to meet the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Like, I never even made it to the start line for any of those three marathons. I had early on given up on the second one, in order to give myself a bigger recovery/training gap after the first one, but then I realized I was so burnt out on training that I forced myself to back off from running entirely. I took an extended physical and mental break from running at all for a couple months, and when it came time to start building up my base mileage again to train for the third (now only) marathon I had planned for the year, my knee suddenly decided that inflammation and pain were cool beans, and an MRI revealed the extent of the damage that had been accumulating since I first injured it two years before and through all the running (including my marathon PR) I'd been doing since it first healed up.

But on the other hand, this was the year that, through the help of my coaches, I realized that I might really have something here, with powerlifting. I discovered  not just that I enjoy powerlifting, but also that it might the one thing I might actually have a talent for. I enjoy running, and I enjoy derby, but enthusiasm alone doesn't make you elite. No matter how hard I could've worked at those two sports, I will probably only have ever been average at best. I went into this, too, expecting to be average at best. And in the short time that I've spent doing it, I've surprised myself and probably everyone that I know, too. Because who would've thought, right? Certainly not me.

And I'm not sitting here calling myself elite or anything, I promise. But what I am saying is that I had a feeling of "Yes, THIS." You know that feeling when something just clicks and feels right and makes sense? That's how I'm feeling. Like, maybe THIS is what I'm meant to do. THIS is where I'm meant to be.

That said... I feel like my greater goal for 2016 is to discover the same feeling in other aspects of my life.

I've already taken the first step - my family and I are moving to the Portland area next summer. It's something we've talked about and have wanted for years, and I finally felt ready to pull the trigger on the decision. And you know? It felt right. It felt like the right decision to make. Every time I've thought about it in the past (which was many, many times!), it would kind of freeze me up and I would feel all sorts of hesitation and worry. But since making that decision, I've felt nothing but excitement and anticipation. And especially since I got to spend some time in our future home last week over break, those happy feelings have just increased exponentially. "YES. THIS."

The other thing, the more pressing thing, is that after we move, I'm not so sure I want to return to teaching. I don't have a solid vision for what I want to do instead, but I do know that I can't do this anymore. I know that a great many other people are able to balance their teaching careers with their families, their relationships, their personal interests, their health, etc., but they must be better people than me, because after ten years of trying (six of which I've been a parent), I'm finding that I just can't do this anymore. I love working with students, and I love literature, but I need a job that ends when I leave for the day and doesn't bleed into my personal life. (When I was younger, I used to dream of the day when I would no longer have to do homework, and then I went ahead and chose THE number one job for homework =P) And I don't know what I want to do next. I love to write. I'm fairly good at editing. I don't even object to doing something education-related, but I just know that I cannot continue to do this daily grind of lesson planning, being ON all day, grading, IEP forms, staff meetings, standardized testing, etc, etc, and then leaving for the day/weekend and finding that I STILL have to be "Ms. Ngo" in all other aspects of my life because becoming a teacher includes a "good behavior" clause. I'm just... I don't think I'm cut out for this anymore, you guys, and it's arguable whether I ever was to begin with. I'm not saying I'm lazy or don't want to work hard, but I need more room to breathe, I need to not be constantly tired and stressed out and guilty for yet again asking my daughter to go play somewhere else because Mommy has to get her work done (or guilty for playing with my daughter when I have a long list of things to plan or grade, or guilty for choosing to stay late to get work done and then missing out on time with my family, or...).

So... that's my main resolution for 2016, I guess. To find a job that clicks for me, that makes me feel like, "YASSSS. THIS." Because life has thrown me some personal and professional curve balls, and I'm no longer the same person I was ten years ago when I first started. I may have failed at the thing that I originally set out to do, but that just means that I was meant to be doing something else.

Pause and reflect

I haven't written a blog post in almost a year. I've had a lot of stuff happen, some good and some bad, and I could've written a...