Morbid Conversations

daily life, death, dissertation

Our “office” has been the sunroom in my parents’ home today. I worked on editing an article for a professor and did some reading. We walked up to the local pizza place at noon to meet up with some of my mom’s family who were gathering because a relative’s in-laws from Taiwan were in town. It has not been the most productive day, but I think being away from campus has been good for my anxiety.

Anyway, you know the rules in conversation: avoid politics, money, sex. You know you are close with someone when all those taboo topics are discussed. You know you are really close with someone when you discuss the topic that is not even on that list: death.

You know you are comfortable with someone when, as if discussing the purchasing of curtains you can say, “If it happens sooner, I would want to be buried here, but if later and we have a family, a home, an established foundation somewhere, then I would want to be buried there.” And then, the person, in this case, my husband, responds back that he would like a mausoleum because that way none of our kids have to worry about where they’ll be buried (dream big, honey). Then we went back to our work. I went back to editing. Bruno back to writing his dissertation.

Maybe we are unusual, but brief conversations like this happen. I mean not all the time. I can be macabre (once, for a twelve hour drive to Connecticut we only listened to Lore — did not sleep so well that night!), but Bruno not so much. Yet, I think it is normal and probably one of the more healthier tendencies I have: knowing this can’t go on forever.

I think about it when I am wasting time (and I mean wasting time, not just relaxing, not doing something productive). Do I really want to be eighty and have devoted most of my life to Mark Zuckerberg-created methods of socialization? Do I really want to talk about that chick I barely know just because of some picture she posted on facebook? Do I really want to waste the last few years of my twenties spending Saturday mornings catching up on sleep (being hungover) or creating something, being someone, giving to someone?

I do not have a memento mori and while I do think the avoidance of death is unhealthy, being fixated on it is equally so. But I think these occasional morbid conversations, if they are even really all that morbid, help me maintain quality in life, even if quantity (in the grand scheme of history) is short.

xo, Ali

 

 

Thoughts on a Hometown

daily life, dissertation, graduate school

We are back in my hometown for the next two weeks. Even though I think I know this area pretty well, things have changed since I left for college back in 2008. Bruno and I decided to do some exploring and ended up at a new (at least new to me) coffee shop that a reviewer claimed had “the best chai tea latte in all of Ohio.” I have not had every chai tea latte in Ohio, but it is the best chai tea latte I’ve had.

I was voted most likely to never come back when I graduated from high school. I don’t have the yearbook for that year — 18 year old Ali was “too cool” for that — but there’s a picture of me in a yearbook rolling a suitcase with my superlative written underneath. I was really proud of that superlative at the time, but in hindsight I suspect it had more to do with my willingness to hate the “provincialism” of the area. I’m not proud of that.

Hometowns are complicated places. Not everyone really has one. I’m talking about the type of place where everyone knows everyone. Your teachers taught not only your siblings, but also your parents, your aunts and uncles, and all your cousins. When you tell someone your last name, they say “you must be this and that” because your last name means something to people. Its the type of place where a stranger says “you look/act so much like your mom/dad” because, yes, they know them. I do not remember my graduating class number, but I do not think it was over seventy. I knew most of them since kindergarten. That can be stifling. It was stifling.

I spent much of my life wanting to escape. And yet, strangely, it is still a place I refer to as “home.” As in, “I’m going home this weekend” or “I’m back home for the next two weeks.” And while I do not want to move back (hard to imagine any political theory jobs popping up around here!) it is no longer a place I want to escape.

Part of it is because I see how much this place made me. I have a college friend that joked about me that you can take the girl out of the small town, but you can’t take the small town out of the girl. This is probably true. I cannot imagine knowing how to work hard on my dissertation if I had never worked on a dairy farm. The high school experiences — getting busted by the cops for having a football party when I was a sophomore, regularly skipping class, regularly partying (often in barns and cornfields) in some ways led me to run arms wide open into discipline and routine. But they also made me empathetic when other people mess up. I get it. I was there in high school. Time spent working in the local factory (and my father) gave me a blue collar sense of humor and I know that. For every delicious foodie meal I’ll ever have, I’ll never be too stuck up for the local greasy bar pizza.

When I’m here I feel reconnected with the important things — faith and family. While the anxieties of dissertation writing, planning to teach my very first college class, the really shoddy academic job market never really truly leave, they seem like lesser problems. The important thing is to make sure I spend time with my younger, still in elementary, middle, and junior high school sisters. The important thing is to make sure I stop by and see one of my best friends who just had her fourth baby and let her know she is a total bad ass for becoming a mother again. It is watching my nephews for a week because their babysitter is on vacation. I’m not too busy for loving people when I’m home.

While we were driving to this coffee shop, I told Bruno, “I just feel so relaxed.” We were driving along the country roads listening to the John Denver song of the same name. I’ve been working hard and getting back on a routine. The fourth chapter is swinging along. This was not the relaxed state of doing nothing on a beach. It feels like the relaxation of having your priorities straight. Time spent in a  hometown can do that for you.

xo, Ali

 

Monday Miles : June 11 – 17, 2018

crossfit, monday miles, running

Not so many miles this week. As I mentioned yesterday, it was probably the least productive week of my summer — with packing and moving. I underestimated how long everything was going to take me and Friday was a total scramble. Even though I’m in my hometown for the next two weeks (aside for an excursion to Nashville) I’m hoping to get it together with more consistency.

I’m not good at not working. I could feel my relief working on my dissertation this morning. Ah, this feels right. I suspect the same feeling will come to me when Bruno and I work out later this afternoon. We have a few travel WOD’s planned (I think my mom is planning on joining us today!) and I’ll be getting back on track with running, biking, and swimming.

6 / 11 : Nada. Nothing.

6 / 12 : Mid-day 40 minute heart-rate run (keeping myself under 152 bpm). It was burning hot. I could not keep my heart rate down. 3.4 miles. Crossfit. Warm-up — assortment of single-unders, dead lift practice, lunges. WOD: Every four minutes for five sets. 35 foot dumb-bell walking lunge. First set 15 lbs., second through fifth sets 25 lbs. dumb-bells. I think the first set of 3 dead-lifts were 125 lbs. Every set after were 135 lbs. This is the highest I’ve ever dead-lifted. I know this is pretty light, but I was so proud of myself. The women I was lifting with kept adding more weight when we were building up and I remember thinking, “I have no idea if I can do this.” And I did. Three sets of 15 Good Mornings, 20 sit-ups. Romwod for mobility.

6 / 13 : Rest. I was so sore in the best way possible from Tuesday’s work out.

6 / 14 : Still sore. Crossfit. Warm-up — “Rowling.” Rowing and burpies. I suspect I ended up doing around 700m row and about 15 burpies? Dumb-bell squat progression. WOD: For time — For time 30 calorie row, 50 dumb-bell front squats with 15 lbs. dumb-bells. 6 minutes 38 seconds. Core work.

6 / 15 : Moving.

6 / 16 : Hometown. Relaxing. Visiting.

6 / 17 : Father’s Day. Relaxing. Visiting. Sleeping.

Total : 3.4 mile run, 2 hours Crossfit.

xo, Ali

 

 

Favorite Things : June 8 – 15, 2018

favorite things

A very belated favorite things. This week has been chaotic to say the least. I seriously underestimated how long and how time consuming packing and moving could be. Then as soon as everything was in our new house, we drove down to Ohio to my hometown. My mom and step-dad have been living in Spain for the last two years and they moved back home this weekend, so we rushed to get everything done so we could drive down see them. We’ll be here for the next two weeks.

This was not the most productive dissertation week (I don’t think I looked at it at all), but I did get my third chapter approved with edits and sent an abstract in for a conference. So — some small things were done. This week I will have to hit it hard if I want to get the fourth chapter in by the end of the month. Goals.

Other than that nothing new. We went out with my elementary/middle/junior high/high school friend (over two decades of friendship here!) and her fiancé last night and today we are doing the Father’s Day celebrations. I’ve been relaxing, but I also just mainly feel antsy to get back to work, get back on routine, and enjoy some family time.

So, without further ado, this week’s favorite things.

I keep going back and forth on this. When I read that authors I love, like Zadie Smith, have a flip phone and no social media, articles like this make deleting facebook and Instagram more enticing.

Hilarious!

In defense of extreme moderation.

I love this essay on cooking.

Post-work out makeup and skin routine.

On of more serious note, two things:

I did a huge research paper on Title IX for my Modern American Regime class and I still follow it fairly closely. This article on its abuse is an important read.

This Cup of Jo essay on suicide is a must read.

Have a lovely rest of your weekend!

xo, Ali

 

 

Race Report : Flirt with Dirt Dirty Duo 5k & 10k in Novi, Michigan (June 9, 2018)

races, running

I begin this by noting I have no pictures and race pictures are not up yet. Bruno and I both ran and both left our phones in the truck because of the rain. By the time we finished, neither one of us I think had the energy to run back to the truck, grab a phone, and ask a stranger “hey, can you take a picture of us?” If there was a picture of us, it would look like a muddy, wet, mess. The race was called Flirt With Dirt and indeed I took quite a bit of dirt home with me.

Let me begin with my arrogance, pride, hubris: I read a few race reports online, most runners saying that the race was not so bad, easy even. I researched the elevation gain which did not seem bad at all to me after Trail Half-Marathon. In fact the hills seemed significantly less than what I run here in Hillsdale, so how could it be that bad? I saw one report, just one that said the race was hard. But this was one out of several “not so bad at all’s” so I ignored the warning. I forgot hills are not the only thing that make a race hard. Terrain makes a difference. And while I can do hills. I have little experience with technical trail terrain.

Still, I developed unrealistic expectations of what I could probably time at the race. These expectations probably wouldn’t have been absurd if it were a regular road 5k and 10k (the expectations were slower than my PRs in both these areas), but trail? Cute, Ali. But also, get it together.

I was excited about the day. It was going to be Bruno’s first trail race. We were up at around 4 in the morning. I showered. Bruno made the oatmeal with almond milk, strawberries, chia seeds, and plenty of cinnamon. We went through McDonald’s for some coffee (chain coffee preference in order : Dunkin, McD’s, Starbucks) and were on the road to Novi a little after 5am. It was pouring rain and storming. I kept checking the weather for Novi, but mostly felt ok. Whatever would happen would happen. I was pretty chill.

I was pretty happy that despite by ambitious goals for the race, I maintained that core gratitude of “I’m just happy to be out there racing,” because I needed it later. Race parking and check-in were easy enough. Everything was easy to find, organized. By the time I checked in, waited in line/stretched for the port-a-potties, it was already time for the 5k.

The race starts going downhill and let’s just say that downhill is tricky. It makes going faster seem easier, then a mile later you wonder “why does this feel so hard?” The first mile glided by for that 5k — I ran it in 8 minutes, no problem. I don’t even thing I panted. But I think I ran off the adrenaline and momentum for the downhill, because I went a minute slower every mile after that. By the time I was on the last mile I could not believe I signed up to do it all over again for twice the distance. I finished at 29:50. Almost five minutes slower than I had planned. I was still pretty happy with my time — happy it was under 30 minutes and happy to just take a bit of a break before I ran another 6.3 miles.

I already significantly lowered my expectations for the 6.3, but I was nervous. Like I said, I forgot how hard trail running technically is — even without a lot of hills. I landed strange on my foot and my Achilles tendon was bugging me. My attitude was kind of low. Plus it started raining. The trail was muddy and wet. Bruno made jokes and I would just give him a cursory thumbs up. I was grumpy. I was sore. I wanted the race over with.

About mile three, I had a serious talk with myself: “You could not even do this last year! You could not even do this six months ago!” I took a deep breath and just started thinking about how grateful I was. I was grateful to be on this muddy, constantly twisting and turning trail. I was grateful to be around for Bruno’s first trail race. And I just repeated those things over and over and over again. I was and am just grateful to run. Always.

During Trail Half-Marathon, I still had a little bit of juice to finish fast and strong. I did not have as much for this race. I was beat, exhausted, but at least now, in a much better, positive, grateful mood. We still sprinted up the hill, but it was probably more like a hobble. Bruno and I grabbed hands and crossed the finish line. It was a victory. I went from being a total grumpy 10k runner to one filled with joy and gratitude all in the course of 1 hour and 10 minutes. Miles change you.

It was still raining, but we checked our times and places for the 5k. Bruno got fourth in his age group and I got third — which, frankly, has never happened to me before — so that was awesome. We received Dirty Duo beer mugs and age group award race jars, and then hopped in the truck, changed (I was soaked), and drove the two hour drive home.

I learned a lot from this race. 1) Have reasonable expectations. 2) Be grateful. Always.

I’m not sure where I will be in June 2019, but if I am still in Michigan, I would love to run this race again. I cannot help but be a fan of a race that humbles me, kicks my ass, and makes me feel grateful all in a few miles. Flirt with Dirt, I think its love.

5k : 29:50

10k : 1:10:21

Dirty Duo Time : 1:40:11 (9.3 miles)

xo, Ali

 

 

Monday Miles : June 4 – 10, 2018

crossfit, monday miles, running, swimming, training, triathlon

We are about to start a full week. We are moving all of our stuff from our current house to the new house this week, but because the landlord wants to put some new stuff in the kitchen (a cause for delay I am totally fine with) we cannot move in for another two weeks yet. So at the end of this week we are picking up my mom and step-dad from the Detroit Airport on Friday afternoon — they will be moving back to the states after two years of working in Spain — and heading back to Ohio for two weeks. Add to all this that I managed to mess up my left elbow again (it was previously broken a few years ago) and lifting anything, straightening it, holding anything with my left hand leads to a lot of pain. So, yes, it is a little chaotic over here.

Workouts for last week (or lack thereof) were heavily influenced by my non-functioning left elbow/forearm/wrist. I tried to take it easy in preparation for the Dirty Duo Flirt with Dirt on Saturday. It is better, but still not optimal.

6 / 4 : Crossfit — 2x 100m run, 15 morning glories, 15 air squats, 30s/30s ankle stretch. Movement prep with PVC pipe for cleans. 4 x 5 cleans with 35 lbs. bar bell. My form was pretty atrocious for the movement, so the coach just had me working from the mid-thigh to jump motion over and over again. WOD – For time. 15 cleans (same mid-thigh to jump motion) and 21 calorie row. 2 minutes and 53 seconds. Romwod.

6 / 5 : Morning — 700m swim. 200 m drills/breast stroke warm-up. 500m 10 x 50m swim w/ 30-45s recovery. I was really happy with this swim. But afterwards, this is when my elbow started bugging me. Crossfit — RUNNING! Hoorah! Warm-up was a bunch of different mobility walks — lunge twists, kick-butts, high knees, hurdle walks, etc. WOD: 4 x 200, 1 minute recovery in between, 3 minute recovery after last 200, 3 x 300, 1 minute recover in between, 3 minute recovery after, 2 x 400, 1 minute recover. It took me 22:06 minutes and I ran about a 7:00-7:30 pace for each interval. I am really loving crossfit, but sometimes I get so overwhelmed with how much there is to learn, so it was nice to have a day where I knew what to do — just run. Romwod.

6 / 6 : Rest. Here begin the onslaught of elbow woes.

6 / 7 : Rest. Elbow.

6 / 8 : Rest. Lots of stretching and hamstring prep for the race on Saturday.

6 / 9 : Flirt with Dirt Dirty Duo 5k and 10k. I will be writing a race report this, but for now, I can say it was a very humbling (and muddy) experience.

6 / 10 : Rest.

I’m hoping to get back to more training this week, the elbow feels a bit better (but not much). Running, though, my main love, should be fine.

xo, Ali

 

Brief Thoughts on Kate Spade

fashion

After my parents divorced, my mom traveled to Chicago frequently to visit her younger sister. Sometimes my sister, brother, and I would go along. One of those times she bought a Kate Spade bag. It was black and white, the standard handbag.

Without ever seeing any advertising, without having any awareness of the “whimsical” nature of the brand or the founder, I knew that my mom buying this purse was a big deal. That was advertisement enough. She would return back to our rural Ohio town with a “Kate Spade.” We went up the Signature Room of the John Hancock building and drank hot chocolates. I was probably twelve at the time and I remember feeling sophisticated. I knew I wanted to grow up to be the type of woman who owned a Kate Spade.

Coach was the chosen-purse while I was in high school. I owned one, but I never particularly cared for the gaudy C’s all over everything. I feel the same way about Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors purses. You do not have to be discerning to notice the brand, it screams at you like a portable billboard. A Kate Spade is very clearly a Kate Spade, but you wear the purse. The purse does not wear you.

I own my own black Kate Spade handbag, given to me by mother for Christmas a couple years ago. At that point Kate Spade the person no longer had anything to do with Kate Spade the brand, but the purse is black, simple, functional. It is all business on the outside with pink polka dots on the inside. I still use it. I am the type of woman who owns a Kate Spade purse.

I think when I was twelve I thought this type of person would be living in a big city, sipping something more potent than hot chocolates, glamorous, sophisticated, cosmopolitan. Today I am none of those things. I live in another (slightly larger!) rural Michigan town. I’m more bookish than glamorous. The only sophisticated and cosmopolitan thing about me is that I can read (but not speak) French. And I use it not to read French Vogue, but to read Rousseau.

But I think, going back to that day when Kate Spade first caught my eye, is that the purse made me look forward to adulthood. As an awkward nerdy middle-school kid in a small rural town, I think that day with the purse represented what everyone who does not necessarily fit in where they are at: there is more out there. What that “more” looks like does not look like what I thought it would when I was twelve, but I think I found it, or at the very least, am closer to it.

Thank you, Kate Spade.

Monday Miles : May 28 – June 3, 2018

crossfit, monday miles, running, swimming, training, triathlon

This week, like always, was a little bit of everything. I took it easy on both of my weekday runs to recover from Murph on Monday. As I mentioned on Friday, my bike broke so I’ve been doing all my rides on an indoor trainer. While the trainer does let me set resistance, rpm, calories, heart rate, I actually cannot figure out anything else. It doesn’t tell me mileage, but I think it tells me power, but to be honest — this is how much of a newb I am — I have zero idea what any of it means. I’m just rolling with it so to speak and hoping to borrow a family bike after I go to Ohio next week.

Here are this week’s work outs!

5 / 28 : My very first Murph. It was scaled. It was still hard. Read more here.

5 / 29 : Rest. I was not expecting to be as beat as I was. I was not mentally tired, but I felt physically tired. A cheeseburger was a necessary part of my “recovery” diet.

5 / 30 : Morning – 50 minute run at below 152 beats per minute heart rate. 4.52 miles, averaging 11:02 mile. I get that eleven minute miles are basically slower than a warm-up jog for most people, but this is actually about twenty seconds per mile faster than last week’s run at the same heart rate and same route which made me pretty happy. Afternoon – back to Crossfit. Warm up — 2 x 100 single-unders (I only got to 75 first round and 89 the second), 10 wall squats with 3 second hold, 10 in and outs with a bar, 10 front squats with bar (mistakenly had a 45 lbs. bar for this — mistakes were made!). WOD : 5 x 3 front squats. Rounds 1 & 2 : 35 lbs. Rounds 3 & 4 : 55 lbs. Round 5 : 65 lbs. 3 x 6/6 split squats, 30 banded crunches. As with most crossfit things, this was my first time ever doing a front squat. Ever.

5 / 31 : Swim — 500 meters. 5 x 50 meters, 6 x 25 meters, 2 x 50 meters. 30-45 seconds after each 50 or 25. This was my first swim were I didn’t just do 25 meters at a time. It felt hard. It felt rough. I know it will get there. 5 x 100 single-unders. I will master you!…only to move on to double-unders.

6 / 1 : Morning : Indoor bike — 40 minutes. Every nine minutes increased resistance for one minute, then returned back to original resistance, tried to mainly just focus on going 90-100 rpm. I have no idea what I’m doing. Run — 40 minutes easy on treadmill (it was raining). 10:40/mile. Also, I did that thing where I breathed through my nose instead of my mouth for this run because I did not have a heart rate monitor. Afternoon : Crossfit. Warm-up — 50 single-unders, 100m run, 50m dumbbell over-head walk with 15 lbs. dumbbells, 15 x leg-throws with partner, 50 single-unders, 100 m run; 50m front rack walk (15 lbs. dumbbells); 3 x toes to bar practices, 45 seconds double-under practice, 100m run, 50m waiters walk and farmer carry with 15 lbs. dumbbells, 3 x toes to bar attempts, 5 x wall ball squats @ 14 lbs, 5 x wall ball thrusts @ 14 lbs, 5 x wall balls @ 10 lbs. WOD (yeah, you read that right. That was all a warm-up!) — For time — Run 1k, 50 single-unders, 100m double dumb-bell walk — 15 lbs., 50 single-unders, 30 wall ball shots @ 10 lbs., 100m front rack walk — 10 lbs., 30 toes to bars (attempts!), 30 wall ball shots, 50 single-unders, 100m farmer/waiter carry — 10 lbs., 30 toes to bars (attempts!), 50 single-unders, run 1k. I finished in 29 minutes and 8 seconds. It was no joke. Also, I think my grip strength is getting somewhat better because I could actually stay holding onto the bar longer, which was convenient.

6 / 2 : Swim — 500m, 10 minutes of drills — 200m back floating, gently kicking, not using arms (thank you Total Immersion!). I would switch to breast stroke when I couldn’t get myself to move anymore, but after the first few times, I made most of the way down the pool. 300m — freestyle, 25m reps with 30-45 breaks. I tried to count strokes. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many strokes it takes to get down the pool: 22-24. There. I said it. Things can only go up from here. 40 minute indoor bike. Every four minutes increased resistance for a minute maintaining 90-100 rpm. Like I said, I’m just doing what I can with what I have for right now.

6 / 3 : Run — 7 miles. 9:44/mile. Average HR 161 bpm. This was both faster than the same exact run from last week at a lower heart rate and in hotter temperatures. I’m just saying. This run I noticed something different. There is a final hill on my very last mile that is always just excruciating for me. I usually spend the ten minutes before I get to it convincing myself not to walk it. This time it felt easy. Like, in the “why were you so worked up about that” kind of way. It felt good.

I’ve got another race coming up this week — the Flirt with Dirt, so the plan is to take it easy for this week.

xo, Ali

Favorite Things : May 26 – June 1, 2018

favorite things

How is it June 1 already? One more month and we are half-way through 2018. I’ll admit to being, for the most part, pretty on track with my 2018 goals so far, the biggest goal being to finish my dissertation by the end of this year (this counts even if I have to defend in early 2019). I’m waiting to hear back on chapter three 2.0 (I had to split up the original chapter three into chapters three and four) and will hopefully get chapter four, which was part of the original chapter three, in by the end of this month, leaving only chapters five (which I have already started) and six. I think once three and four get approved, it is going to feel very real that I am nearing the end of decades of school. This is terrifying because I have no idea what is going to happen next. Hello, anxiety.

We have no big plans for this weekend other than packing, a run, a swim, a bike, and most definitely some reading. My old mountain bike gave up the ghost this week, so I am currently training for my first triathlon and bikeless. I was hoping she would last until I could buy a road bike at the end of summer, but she could not hang out. I’ve been riding on the indoor bike on campus, but it isn’t the same. I really just want to feel comfortable with the road and hills. Cycling is scary for me and riding indoors is not helping me with that fear.

Anyway — here are this week’s favorite things.

Committing to your first ultra.

I love black beans.

“Without opposing reasonable, routine maintenance, Ehrenreich observes that the care of the self has become a coercive and exploitative obligation: a string of endless medical tests, drugs, wellness practices, and exercise fads that threaten to become the point of life rather than its sustenance.”

Something to think about : a critique of radical wellness culture.

I suspect this is probably true. I definitely judge handshakes.

Related (and for a laugh) : Seven signs that your man’s masculinity is non-toxic.

Stop imitating the habits of successful people.

Horrifying. I’m not sure I will ever eat calamari again.

Have a great weekend!

xo, Ali