From an outside perspective, Odabashian and Joe Doucet appear to have little in common. The former is a legendary American rug brand with nearly a century of production under its belt; the latter is a contemporary design powerhouse who dances among disciplines with ease. Their crossing of paths…
Note: I discovered this buried on my hard drive, a nostalgic token from a freshman year writing course at Northwestern. I’m pretty amazed at how applicable these words feel after three additional years of school, six years of real-world experience, and a total career change.
Always be one step ahead. Be ready to do anything and everything—to be anyone and everyone—they ask of you, as if you would have done it anyway. Forget your insecurities or desperation; forget the feeling of sheer terror as you stand, seemingly unarmed, on the front lines in war against your own vulnerability. Leave the you who you hate at the door; leave the chill from the 20-minute frigid walk there; leave the pain from the muscle you tore by squeezing in just one more workout; leave the crushing fatigue of another night spent up and wondering if this job will be the one. Leave the world outside and give yourself to the empty room; this is your world now. It is your job to transform it. It is your job to transform yourself; it is your job to transform those people behind the table—the ones sighing and tapping their pencils—into your audience; it is your job to turn those notes on a staff on a black-and-white page into a story. This is how you impress the right guy; this is how you land the job; this is how you get experience; this is how you meet the people and make a name and get the call that makes your whole world explode. Ground yourself, in spite of the height of the heels that are integral to the claim of “fight-foot-five” on your resume; ground yourself, in spite of the vacant stares that threaten to snap you in half. Remember why you love it, when your legs start to tremble and your dress is all wrong; when your PMS is so bad that even your cat doesn’t want to be around you; when you wish you could just this once take a cab instead of the subway and pay off your debt and make mom and dad proud and make all of your dreams come true.
Show ten thousand versions of yourself, but never show an imitation.
Remember the words as if you’ve said them a thousand times; feel as if you are saying them for the first. Breathe in and breathe out and two minutes will be gone. Breathe in and breathe out and it’s over; it’s over, and you can eat something; it’s over, and the slate is clean; it’s over, and you start to remember why you love it; it’s over, until tomorrow.
It’s been a few weeks. Dark mornings and unpredictable weather have relegated me to the treadmill recently, even on long runs. I’ve missed you.
This morning was temperate and misty—conditions I know you love—but a forecast of heavy rain and thunderstorms made me wonder whether you’d be there, or I’d be stood up on this damp 11-mile date.
My excitement to see you eclipsed my reservations. I took special precautions preparing today, mentally checking off my list of the rainy run essentials you’d recommended on message boards and the pages of Runner’s World. I felt a bit like a poseur, but I also felt pretty cool.
I first saw you as I entered the Park at 90th and Central Park West. I was a mere half-mile in; you had just finished. Clad head-to-toe in black—with long pants, sleeves, and a hat—you calmed my fears of overheating in the thermal vest I wore to keep dry. You looked comfortable, unfazed.
As I made my way down West Drive I saw you by the dozens—in front of me, beside me, behind me. You passed me and I passed you. I observed your effortless gait—trying to match my every clumsy step to your gracefully restrained technique.
I saw you at mile 3, curving up the East Side of the Park, in a Triathlon T-shirt—and marveled at how easy 11 miles sounded in comparison.
I passed you on Harlem Hill, and silently shared in your pain. Yet I felt so much less this time—less than ever before. Then I saw you running toward me, relishing this 0.32-mile stretch of steady downhill. There was no eye contact, but I heard your empathy in each steady breath.
Entering the Park at 90th to start your run, you nearly crossed in front of me at mile 6.5. But when you saw me slurping down that silly raspberry-flavored goo, you slowed to let me pass. You knew this was a long one.
I thought you’d leave me for a respite around the Reservoir, but instead we dove together down the West Side for a second time. It felt like flying.
Somewhere during mile 8, after cutting back east at 72nd, we climbed Cat Hill together. You cheerfully conversed with your buddy all the way. I eavesdropped, and it almost didn’t feel like a hill at all.
The wind and mist picked up around mile 9, and I worried you’d notice me slowing. But in solidarity, you stayed—by my side, behind me, in front of me. Wherever I was, you were there.
Crossing back to the West Side for the final time, I mentally prepared for a steady uphill before the finish. As I ascended, you breezed past me and I wondered if you were on mile 1 or 21. I channeled your energy and ease. The wind was suddenly fierce, and each refreshing gust threatened to throw us off course.
We parted ways at 90th, where I peeled off from the Park and up a few more blocks to reach the almighty 11. Just like that. I know you’ll be here next time.
Because, Central Park Runner, you always are. For that, I thank you.
2. Even the best people need to mind their own damn business. That includes you. That includes me.
3. Nantucket is a magical place. And riding a bike for the first time in over 15 years is…just like riding a bike.
4. There is a little restaurant/inn called River’s End located on a bend of Highway 1 where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. Nestled in the side of a cliff, it provides a sweeping aerial view of this magnificent intersection, flanked by dozens of seals sunbathing on damp stretches of sand. It may be the closest I’ve been to heaven. Order a local wine and the crab bisque.
7. Karma is stopping to help someone stranded with car trouble (after hundreds of others didn’t), then hours later coming perilously close to running out of gas—without cellphone service, miles from the next town—yet somehow making it, on faith and fumes.
8. Nostalgia is perhaps the most deeply persuasive emotion.
9. Doctors are quick to medicate things that can easily be healed on their own. This is their job. Always consider a second opinion, especially if it’s your own.
10. Always get the maximum insurance on a car rental. Consider it mandatory. You never know.
11. Stay focused and don’t listen to gossip. When the shit hits the fan, you may be better off than you expected.
12. Letting go is much less painful than holding on.
13. All good things must come to an end. Only then can the memories thrive.
Ed. Note: This isn’t exclusively a running blog, but my Manhattan Half-Marathon training is consuming much of my mental energy at the moment. Post-January 26th I vow to get back to all things New York-ey.
Perhaps the most maddening aspect of half-marathon training thus far has been my increasing dependence on—er, obsession with—those unpredictable elements. After moving yesterday’s 10-miler to today due to extreme cold (12 °F felt like 1°, and I’m rather fond of my lungs), I began checking the hourly forecast compulsively. I tossed and turned all night, deliberating on the best 1 hour and 40 minute window to avoid the predicted sleet and rain. But faced with a nasty morning and little guarantee for improvement, I made my decision: A treadmill run.
No sooner did I begin the half-block trek to the gym than my decision was validated. An inch-thick layer of slush-covered ice coated much of my block—and, I assume, Manhattan.
It was a good call. The run was hard but strong. I, of course, incorporated the big hills. But is the treadmill a lesser form of training? Am I a weaker runner for refusing to set out in what I deem unsafe conditions? Like all aspects of running, it comes down to philosophy.
I run to test my physical endurance, not my endurance of the elements.
I do not run on ice or snow to challenge my sense of balance.
I do not run in the arctic cold to test my lungs and flirt with cold-induced asthma.
I do not run in heavy rain to see how my sensitive Irish skin responds to frigid drops pelting my face, or how my tired, calloused feet handle that soggy squishing with every step.
Why, then, did I sign up for a winter half-marathon? The aforementioned aside, I love winter running. I find clear conditions from 25 °F - 45 °F to be totally invigorating. Central Park is stark and beautiful when the low January sun filters through the gnarled, bare tree branches. And believe it or not, most of my winter races have fallen under these glorious conditions.
I also have the time. With spring, summer, and even fall come weddings, vacations, long weekends, and countless other reasons why one can’t devote much of the weekend to a long run, plus prep and recovery. Bonus: I was able to use the excess holiday calorie consumption (#nomnomnom) to supplement my training, and I actually lost weight in December. It’s really satisfying to feel at optimum fitness when everyone else is bemoaning any non-party-related physical activity for the first time in a month.
So given the psychological agony I inflicted on myself while planning this run, I felt the need to refocus. Re-prioritize. When I clicked “submit” to my application for the Manhattan Half, I did so with a vow that I would do this on my terms, on my time, for as long as it felt right.
Take it away, Frank.
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
Date: December 18, 2013
Place: Uptown 2/3 Train
I was standing against the west side doors of this uptown train as you entered at 34th Street—or perhaps 42nd. I was too consumed with nonsense to notice. Scanning my news feed for the highlights of the day, all I saw out of the corner of my eye was an awkward, middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair, fumbling with his bag. Given your stature I knew that you should take a hold of the railing before the train jolted back into motion. You didn’t, and as if on cue, you stumbled toward me and stomped squarely on my left foot…still sore from this morning’s run.
I sighed an apathetic “Ow,” but didn’t look at you. I was tired, tuned out, and protected by the force field that I wear almost constantly when out alone in our city. It’s a veil of protection that’s often valid—but often not. It’s easier to not bother discerning between the two.
You said “Sorry” immediately, and again a moment later, “Sorry about that.” I didn’t look up and didn’t respond. Not a split second later, I began to feel guilty for my lack of responsiveness, which was almost as rude as a blatant “Back off.” But the moment had passed, and your back was to me. To then break my force field in order to smile and say “It’s ok” would have, I felt, made the situation unnecessarily intimate.
I suddenly became preoccupied with my own passive cruelty. I don’t know where you were going, or what you have been through. I immediately started searching for a wedding ring, not for the usual reasons someone might, but with the hope that you would arrive home to a gentler, wiser woman than I—one who with a smile and a kiss could erase any thought of that inconsiderate 20-something on the subway. “Young people can be selfish,” she’d say warmly. And she would be right.
But there was no wedding ring. As I continued to observe you, wearing a pair of khakis and a plum-colored sweater with a checkered collared shirt haphazardly tucked-in underneath, I became more and more concerned that, with mere passivity, I could have possibly hurt you. That I was perhaps the final straw on the day’s insurmountable stack of impolite gestures. That in saying nothing—and refusing eye contact—I actually had the capability to make you feel bad.
I hope for the opposite. I hope you have forgotten me, and that my behavior—my selfish impulse to shield myself from well-meaning strangers—was nothing more than a gnat you had to swat away on your way home.
Know this: When I treat you as invisible, I assume I’m invisible, too. Tonight, I stand corrected.
So please accept my apology. For you did nothing wrong and—in doing nothing—I did everything wrong. Perhaps if I had smiled and said “Merry Christmas,” your night wouldn’t have been any different. But mine surely would have.
Last week I made the semi-impulsive decision to sign up for my first half-marathon.
[Semi-impulsive (adj.) ˈse-mē-im-ˈpəl-siv: Having been casually considered for some time, though only seriously considered in the not-entirely-sober moments prior to making a major decision.]
I’ve been running consistently for 8 years. Why, now, would I do something as crazy as run 13.1 miles? Something exactly one-half as crazy as running a marathon (which, incidentally, I have no desire to do)?
One week into my training, and on behalf of the thousands of runners who call NYC their course, I feel the need to respond to this rhetorical question:
1. Because I can. I don’t think I can, but I can.
2. I’m half crazy.
3. I get to train in Central Park.
4. I’m half crazy.
My best friend Alyssa (who is, incidentally, much saner than I) brought up some interesting points based on the knowledge she has gleaned from distance runner acquaintances:
1. What if your toenail falls off?
2. Lifelong back and joint problems.
3. Bloody nipples. (Ok, mostly for dudes. Two sports bras should have me covered. Literally.)
4. Toenails. Falling. Off.
The truth is, if I encounter any major malady (other than insanity) during my training regimen, I will stop. (I promise, Mom.) Because for me, the motivation is health. Physical, mental, and emotional. Running can hurt in the moment, but it always feels good after the fact. If that changes, it’s not worth it to me anymore. Plain and simple.
But what’s the biggest reward? Is it the increased endurance and overall fitness? The sense of pride?
I’m not fully prepared to answer that until I cross the finish line, but I will say this: New York runners are the luckiest runners in the world.
We have infinite course options, but many involve obstacles like red lights and narrow pathways clogged with tourists.
And then there’s Central Park. It’s the site of the Manhattan Half, and all of the longest races I’ve done unto this point. (10K’s. I know. Weak.)
Today marked my first “long run” of training, and I passed not one, not two, not three, but four live jazz concerts along the way. I hit my stride just past the Met, when the tourists thin out and there’s a nice, straight, flat stretch before you reach the 102nd Street Transverse (a.k.a. the 5-mile mark, if you run counter-clockwise from West 90th Street as I do).
The first 3.3 were hard only because I was unsure of what I had gotten myself into. But when I hit my stride—on this glorious 48-degree day tailor-made for runners—I felt that sense of ease that comes from distance running that I haven’t felt in awhile. I didn’t have to do anything. Except. Keep. Going.
I finished at 101st and Central Park West, and a street vendor was waiting for me, Poland Spring in hand. (Okay, it took awhile to get his attention and he seemed agitated to have to break a sweaty $20, but still.)
Enough waxing poetic on what others deem a selfish sport. But as I embark on this, the greatest physical challenge of my life, it felt worth noting. I’ll keep it up until it doesn’t feel right anymore. Hopefully I’ll cross a finish line before that.
Making the rounds last week was an article purportedly written by Bansky for The New York Times and rejected before it went to print. This piece capped off the enigmatic street artist’s month-long residency in a city that, not surprisingly, welcomed him with open arms. Bansky’s work is one of few things that can still surprise us.
I’ve been a Bansky fan since seeing the semi-biographical Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010. (I have since learned it is likely a mockumentary. Fiction or not, it gets the point across.) His elaborate, elusive works are nothing if not powerful—capable of leaving an impression long after being scrubbed from their forbidden canvases.
So to me, the artist’s unpopular opinion on One World Trade felt sort of like the flashing of a middle finger on his way out the door. But—like his other incendiary acts—it was also kind of exciting. Oh, snap, Bansky. Ya done did it again.
But the shiny glow of his opposition quickly faded, exposing an uncomfortable uncertainty. Was he right? Had we spent 10+ years recovering from the greatest attack on New York City of all time only to erect a monument to mediocrity? Had its meaning been muddied through days, weeks, and years of proposals, planning, and red tape?
Let’s consider the purpose of the tower. It is not a memorial. We have one of those, and it’s exquisite, humbling, and understated.
The tower—the proposals for which began circulating as early as 2002—is the final, and most literal, piece in the recovery process. It exists to exist; to fill a physical hole that, had it remained, would have glaringly signaled defeat.
It is inevitably symbolic, but not outwardly so. In a quiet nod to freedom, the tower’s spire pierces the sky at precisely 1776 feet. But it was stripped of its original name, The Freedom Tower, in favor of one that soberly defers to the inescapable significance of its own address: One World Trade.
Structurally speaking, it’s a fortress. I’ve seen it from many angles, and what it may lack in architectural ingenuity, it makes up for in sheer girth. When I first visited the 9/11 Memorial in 2011, I got very close the base. The walls have to be at least 5 feet thick. I have never seen anything like it.
But buildings don’t rebuild us; it’s the other way around. If you want to see New York’s “spirit and audacity”—stronger now than ever before—stop staring skyward and look around.
Look to the artists. They speak to us with saxophones on subway platforms, with paint sprayed on decaying walls and rusted scaffolds, with poetry scrawled on the sidewalk. They dig into our consciousness and, like a gnarled root busting through the concrete, manage to subtly yet permanently change our course.
One World Trade is not the place to showcase that talent. The site of such devastation needn’t be made into a work of art. It just needs to stand.
Stand in its shadow for a moment and just be still. If you’re lucky, you’ll round the corner and, on a wall you never noticed before, you’ll find something like this:
Tim Kreider has quickly become one of my favorite writers, primarily for his Op-Ed work in The Times. He has a gift for admitting to the human condition in a way that is both valiant and matter-of-fact; both comforting and deeply unnerving.
He first caught my attention with this piece on embracing the inevitable ignorance of being a living, thinking human being.
But this one hits even closer to home: “I Know What You Think Of Me”—a hard-hitting, yet characteristically concise examination of something we all do: talk about others. Including (and especially) those we love the most.
I’ve found myself more guilty of this lately than ever. And observing this behavior through Kreider’s refreshingly un-fogged lens, I realize that I am not alone—just a cog in the wheel of human interaction. Deciphering, analyzing, or just plain criticizing the innate qualities of the people we know brings us closer to the people we are talking to in that moment. It’s at once a fundamental act of bonding and a passive form of betrayal.
And the vast majority of the time, we consider it harmless. As if our genuine affection for the person up for discussion permits our analysis. For the sake of this conversation, they are not the one we would jump to our feet to embrace should they walk through the door—they are simply a subject, a heartless entity for our dissection.
What we’re less inclined to acknowledge—but are subconsciously aware of—is that they are doing the same thing to us. That’s the unspoken excuse—a childish justification that nonetheless fodders this behavior.
True to form, Kreider’s final phrase is still ringing in my ears: “…If we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.”
I might add that the most mortifying part of knowing what others think is the affirmation of what we already think about ourselves….those insurmountable truths that we live with everyday, hoping nobody else will notice.
I know what you think of me, because I think it too. The only way to change your perception would be to change my own, which would require a change of who I fundamentally am. Which is impossible.
So what do we do? Embrace the ignorance. As much as we can.
I come from theater, a world where professional families are built as a means of preservation and necessary camaraderie. Each project brings together a pile of misfits eager to do something collaborative, great, fleeting…and when it inevitably ends, all that remains are the family members you’ve gained.
And in theater—or my other experiences in the arts, or even a sorority, where you willingly accept the symbolic role of “sister”—I never questioned this. But I was not prepared for the prevalence of the metaphor outside of these communities.
The word “family” has now popped up in some unexpected places. First, in my first “real job” outside of theater. This is a welcome and pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless—that a community over ten times the size of my previous one is still drawn to this definition.
More unexpected, and a little unnerving perhaps, was the use of the term by the fitness coordinator at my new (and totally wonderful, otherwise) gym. “Welcome to the family.”
In response to this, I can only say: Is nothing sacred? As someone who takes the notion of family—biological or metaphorical—rather seriously, I am mildly affronted by the notion of this kind of relationship with the grunting, spray-tanned body builder cramping my stretching space with his overzealous dead lifts.
Why do people use the word so frivolously? Does it put them at ease? Offer a false sense of security? Break down social barriers that, dare I say, have a valid reason for existing to begin with?
I’m not saying that if a traumatic event—like a swarm of killer bees—descended on my local fitness establishment, I wouldn’t extend a hand to my fellow man. Under such circumstances, we are hard-wired to empathize and connect. Such is humanity, and I like it that way.
But on a sunny, killer bee-free Saturday morning, I don’t particularly feel the need to peruse photo albums or share anecdotes with my treadmill neighbors before logging a few miles.
We live in a world of over-sharing, where even the sanest of us [points to self] have had moments of self-destruction before our safe, removed community of Facebook friends. Words and behavior that might, in person, be reserved for a room of family members.
But I maintain that there is plenty of room in this world for friendship—or even pleasant acquaintanceship—and like those social barriers I mentioned earlier, there’s a need for it. Let’s not underestimate the value of emotional and mental space between ourselves and others. It’s what sets apart our real family, and the few friends who might as well be.
BFF Alyssa and myself. We have never once referred to one another as “sisters.”