Tuesday Tribute: Maren Tarro

Maren, writing, as writers do. Also, drinking coffee.

Maren, writing, as writers do. Also, drinking coffee.

Back for another tribute. Today, one of my early writerly friends and all around badass: Maren Tarro.


It was 2007 and I was in the thick of trying/pretending to be a reasonably good restaurant critic. I was reading lots of other writers and had taken a liking to this overly blunt female food writer in the Weekly Alibi who purported to be from the Midwest. But then, her reviews trickled away and this new girl, MAREN, came into play. Who was she? I wrote to the previous writer expressing my dismay that her work had been supplanted by this upstart with the sassy name.

And then. I read a bunch of her reviews, this Maren Tarro. They were damn good. She was snarky and detailed and gushing when justified – in other words, a worthy critic. In early 2008 she received an email from yours truly that introduced – apropos of nothing – that we collaborate on simultaneous dueling reviews. She sounded willing, especially if we could have a few drinks and really shoot the shit, and we met at Nob Hill Bar & Grill within a few weeks.

Sadly, the whole sneaky double review thing didn’t end up how I’d hoped – hers was delayed and the synchronicity was lost – but after that lunch with Maren, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about her trajectory. Right away I got the sense that she never fucked around with anything halfway – you’re all in or you’re nothing. I loved that; still do. Don’t we love what we want to see manifest in ourselves?

Thinking about all that deep stuff, I just poured a bourbon to goad the writing goat. Also, I just invented that phrase.

Time marched on. After a few parties (including a long and salty 30th birthday bash in Las Cruces), several meet ups, and many many months later, Maren has lept into new places and pursuits. Still with that all or nothing bent, of course. She’s written all over the country on issues like marriage rights, Mexican border crap, even touching back down in New Mexico to write political pieces for independent venues.

She decided to hike the whole Appalachian Trail (that would be called a ‘thru-hike’) with not a whole heck of a lot of previous backpacking experience. Somewhere in the extensive planning, she decided it would be easiest for hygiene reasons to just shave her head before starting. So she did. That’s why she’s been a good nudge for me – in the small things and in the big things, make it count.

Thanks, Maren.

Maren amongst the foliage.

Maren amongst the foliage.


Tuesday Tribute origins: a few months ago I decided on a personal year-long challenge: I will take every Tuesday to highlight someone from my life, past or present, who has changed my outlook, nudged the course of my life, or given me reason to make a positive change. In September of 2014 I have shifted the criteria to emphasize the women of influence. 

There are only two guidelines: First, I must have interacted directly with this person. Authors or public figures that have had positive effects in my life are not candidates if I do not know them well enough to call them an acquaintence. Second, those I choose to highlight are in no particular order. There is no implicit hierarchy or chronology. 

Running. Alone. Bliss.

Running Ruminations (a fancy way to say daydreaming)

I joke that there should be an implanted audio recorder in my body so that I can take notes while I run; it’s not really a joke that great thoughts often spring out of the kind of unfettered rumination repetitive exercise allows. In childhood they called it daydreaming. In adulthood it is trampled out of existence by cell phones, family, television, radio, and an iPod in every ear when working out. (In certain cases, using music to enhance a workout experience is desired and OK – here I’m just talking about the default headphones mode that many runners and joggers revert to for every single outing.)

For many, the only chance at quiet consciousness is when unconcious. We dream, we wake up, we might recall that something in the dream was good and it should be written down, but then we forget.

Go take a walk with zero electronics or friends to talk with.

Don’t listen to music.

Allow your mind some unfettered time.

See what develops.

Tuesday Tribute: Mina Yamashita (RIP 2013)

Tuesday Tribute #8 (because 8 is a lucky number): Mina Yamashita

Mina around 1970

Mina around 1970

This is an overdue Tuesday Tribute. I missed a week, thinking about writing this and how to broach the topic.

I wanted to write it now, because this past Friday was Mina’s birthday. But here’s the thing. There is no way I can do Mina justice. I’d have to write a whole book and then it would not be enough, not by far. Maybe there is a perfect haiku to summarize her spirit, but I don’t know it. I’ll write a little bit about her, now, here, but she might make another recurrence in my lexicon of Tuesday Tributes.

She would have been another year older, another year wiser, another year sweeter.

She was a designer, a writer, a food lover, a cook, a friend, a preserver of vegetables, a book binder, a gourmand of all good food, and great at everything she did, whether personal or professional. She was a close friend to hundreds of people whose lives she crossed in her time.

I started writing to Mina sometime around 2009, when she popped up on my radar after starting reviews for the Alibi. She had no idea who I was but I figured since her writing was engaging and knowledgable that she must be cool. I made assumptions, like we are want to do, that she was a young-ish woman (like myself), possibly Asian but possibly using a pen name (like myself). I was totally wrong – she was an experienced opinionated woman around the same age as my parents.

Mina had an amazing life. I’ve heard a few stories out of her own lips about her early days in New Mexico and how she acquired her name (it wasn’t her birth name) from some guru in Santa Fe.

She introduced me to a few things that continue to help me in my own (very Gen-X) self-searching attempts, but the most important was just her LIFE. She didn’t take bullshit from anyone, she did what she wanted, she worked on big projects, and she was actively working on new endeavours with all the enthusiasm of a 25 year old up to the week of her death.

There’s so much crap that we Gen X’ers do to ourselves in our own heads – “who am I?” “what’s this life thing for?” “am I doing enough” – and having someone like Mina in your life helps clear through that clutter. In the end, that crap about doing enough and impressing the right people – it’s all crap.

Mina Yamashita was an example to everyone she touched on how to look at living.

Mina at Los Poblanos, "there's a what? where?"

Mina at Los Poblanos, “there’s a what? where?”

P.S. About “TUESDAY TRIBUTE” and the why: a few weeks ago my mind went off a-wandering during my run. As it often does, it strayed into the realm of wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if ideas. Ideas like memes and tributes. It is refreshing to see gratitude posts directed at a certain person or community, someone that made a difference even if they didn’t know it. I thought about those 52 week challenges to leave little notes for strangers or smile more. I decided on a new challenge for myself: I will take every Tuesday to highlight someone from my life, past or present, who has changed my outlook, nudged the course of my life, or given me reason to make a positive change.

There are only two guidelines: First, I must have interacted directly with this person. Authors or public figures that have had positive effects in my life are not candidates if I do not know them well enough to call them an acquaintence. Second, those I choose to highlight are in no particular order. There is no implicit hierarchy or chronology. 

The Spaghetti Approach to Achieving a Breakthrough

Let’s say you’re stuck in your progress toward a goal. Doesn’t matter what goal – it could be a physical feat or it could be getting your homework done. There are two generally accepted ways to make progress: incremental change (ideally with tracking) and jumping off a cliff (not literally).

Incremental change is the preferred method: it can be tracked, measured, and reproduced. When you make progress you know WHICH thing enabled the progress. You know that it was the fact that you started flossing your teeth right after eating that made you less likely to snack, versus putting an alarm on the fridge door. You know which behavior change you are in the middle of, and therefore you know what is working. Incremental change gets much love, partly because of how sciency it is, probably also because it is easier chunks to bite off if you’re the person making the changes.

But here’s the problem. It’s fucking slow. Sometimes you need or want the end result to happen very soon, or at a particular point in time rather than just “when it happens”. This is where jumping off a cliff becomes useful. For clarity’s sake, let’s alternatively call this method the Spaghetti Approach.

Oh, please… stick! (Thanks to cockeyed.com for this!)

In the spaghetti approach, you simply change a whole BUNCH of stuff all at once. In the snacking example, you padlock the fridge, take herbal appetite suppressants, floss after eating, drink water before meals, AND buy a dress a size too small. You throw all the spaghetti against the wall at the same time. If enough of it sticks, you have made your breakthrough in record time. The only drawback (if you can even call it a drawback – it depends on how sciency you like your life to be) is that you won’t know for sure what really worked, and which pieces of spaghetti you can ignore the next time around.

BUT, here’s why the drawback might not be a drawback. The next time around, things might be totally different. Knowing exactly what worked before might not even be useful. This is especially true with things involving the human body or even relationships. Humans are just a mess of ever-shifting potential. It’s true you can generalize, of course. If you take up weightlifting, you will almost certainly get stronger. But generalizations are for generalized results. Doing MORE weightlifting, and MORE, and MORE, will not necessarily move up your maximum squat by 20 pounds. When things get detailed, humans get slightly less reliable results.

What works today or this month or this year or this decade will not necessarily work again.

This is why my 2014 Wasatch Front 100 race is getting the spaghetti approach. I am going out for a breakthrough, and I’m going to try a lot of new things. New things that I have not tried before, or things I have not done in an ultra in awhile, but all things that I have reasonable confidence will not be utter disasters. I’m not going to just decide to go keto-adapted and eat only macadamia nuts. That would be truly nuts.I am happy to share my plans. So here is what I *am* going to do:

  1. Use music. I never, ever, run with music. But I know it helps a ton of people and has sciency research to back up its effects on performance. (See, science!)
  2. Bring back my gaiters (woo, Dirty Girl!). Haven’t worn these in several years and dust/dirt is a big issue for my feet on this course.
  3. My own hydration drink, always. Preloaded dry into bottles or baggies in drop bags. Tailwind, if you’d like to know.
  4. MOAR calories. I undereat at ultras and I suspect that it has an effect on my pace, even if I don’t feel like I’m bonking.
  5. New food (to adjunct to #4) – rice balls. Many, many rice balls.
  6. Swap hydration pack at mile 82 for bottles.

Of all of these, the one with the most potential for bad effects is #4. That will have to be monitored closely so I don’t hurl all over the trail (at least not more than once, anyway). All the rest should have minimal side effects and if they are annoying I can stop or change course in moments.

Wish me luck and sticky pasta.

spaghetti-stuck-on-wall

Tuesday Tribute: Gretchen Dudley Wolfmeyer

Tuesday Tribute: Gretchen Dudley Wolfmeyer

That's the smile. See what I mean?

That’s the smile. See what I mean?

In a way, this is not only a Tuesday Tribute but a “throwback thursday”, because this week’s story was one of the highlights of all of my weeks during junior year of high school. I only wish I had some photos from that era…. somewhere in a box, I suppose.

This had to have taken place junior year because pretty much everything I remember that was awesome about high school happened that year. I could drive (though I had only periodic access to vehicles); I started a new/awesome/serious relationship; I had tons of friends in the SENIOR class. Whoa. And the reason I was friends with many of them was through DRAMA – something I never took to and thus it ended for me after high school. But that fall, we did Jesus Christ Superstar and whoa was it fun. The energy of a production is crazy – frenetic and happy and stressed all at once. You’re busy for hours into the evening after every school day. Everyone is tired but excited and the camaraderie is intense – maybe even more than in sports.

That all being said, it might have been one night after rehearsal that I gave Gretchen a ride home. I recall it being cold because the car took some time to warm up. We had gotten into a conversation that I’ve long forgotten but it was VERY IMPORTANT. I only know that because it was one of those should-stop-too-tired-can’t-stop-too-interesting discussions, the ones that lead you to keep the car running because you think you can wrap it up in a few minutes, and then it’s 20, and then half an hour, and more…

Something Gretchen and I were talking about was awesome, and I wanted to keep it going. That’s all that matters.

I remember how I felt about her in high school, how she was just a bit more of everything that was cool to me. We traded back and forth with several others in the circle a stolen Heathers VHS (stealing? me? how rebellious!). We went to a pizza joint in town and had “usual” orders (spending money for prepared food? preposterous!). We bought KMFDM and Greenpeace t-shirts and wore both with equal pride. Gretchen had (and still has) a smile capable of powering a Tesla and a kindness that radiates from her pores.

So this is for Gretchen, who changed me by showing me that being a little bit of a rebel could coexist with being a happy and generous person, and that burning a little gas to keep one excellent conversation going in the dead of winter is an OK thing, too.

[this is also a sort of Tuesday Tribute to the memory of Robin Williams, and Gretchen knows why. I love you, sweetie!]

Tuesday Tribute: Edward Arroyo

Tuesday Tribute: Edward Arroyo of FloatSpace in Los Angeles

Edward Arroyo, evolving

Edward Arroyo, evolving

Though I’ve known Edward for approximately one day, he’s already helped guide the course of my journey in this cranium on my shoulders. Today, I floated. I had neither the traumatic Homer experience, nor the trippy Lisa Simpson romp, but it was a start of something good.

You see, it was at Ed’s facility, floatspace, that I had my first sensory deprivation tank session. It’s near Pasadena in a remarkably tranquil lot for greater L.A. – the only time a disturbance of a noise came through it was the trash truck on its rounds. Other than that, I lounged around reading a book, watching squirrels bark at me, and listened to the wind. Yeah, I had already floated and was waiting on my brother to emerge from his.

Floating???

Floating. It’s coming. It’s been around for a long, long time, but only had a spike in interest a few decades back that didn’t blossom into a full movement. Now, we have Joe Rogan out doing god’s work (and I’m moderately serious about that) by podcasting the shit of out things that people ought to know about. Floating is one of those things. It’s in the same price vein as massage or cheaper, and has the potential to be far more impactful than a ‘mere’ rubdown at your local day spa. No disrespect to massage therapists – there is a time and a place for massage, and my opinion is that it is of more limited scope than floating.

You can read all about floating all over the interwebs, but my own introductory testimonial came from Christopher Ryan and his Tangentially Speaking podcast. I saw him speak at Paleo(fx) this spring and adored his style. Soon after I listed to a few of his podcasts and realized that he was off on a float during that weekend in Austin – his first – only to do an impromptu recording with the owner of the float space because Dr. Ryan was so impressed with the session.

If you’d like to hear a story about Ed’s place specifically, here’s a young guy describing their first float: http://blog.ancientlasers.com/why-nothing-really-matters-my-trip-inside-an-isolation-tank/

Thanks, Edward.

Tuesday Tribute: Adele Hite, nutrition guru and badass

Today, the slow, deliberate hand clap goes to a woman who is fighting the good fight against dumb (or just ill-informed) nutrition advice.

Tuesday Tribute: ADELE HITE

Adele Hite looking sassy.

Adele Hite looking sassy.

Adele’s a Registered Dietician with a Masters in Public Health, and general all-around badass in the battle against healthy eating misinformation. She runs the website called Eathropology and has done some solid work on combating the USDA’s food pyramid (scheme).

I met Adele just before the Ancestral Health Symposium in 2012. I was looking for a shared hotel room and she was willing and able to lend some mattress room to me. During that long weekend, she and I and her good friend Anna Kelles gossiped, plotted, and learned from each other. They were already in the public health world and I was outside, looking in, dipping my toe into the idea that something (or a lot of things) we are currently doing with regard to food and activity and thinking are just kind of, well, not good. And, more importantly, how can I help?

Adele helped to ignite my ancestral health research and fueled some new ideas in this little thinking cap of a skull. A book about women’s health! A book for US! A podcast! Another conference! Articles and speeches and poster presentations, oh my!

While it is not Adele’s responsibility to make sure that I actually DO follow through on those ideas, she deserves a lot of credit for getting me thinking. And yes, the podcast is still something I think would be amazing. Is podcasting “over”? I surely hope not. At least I can tell myself that if you are GOOD, your talents are never really “over”. And that is why women like Adele are out there, doing what they do, really WELL, and having an effect in the world.

I hope I see her again soon, but even if not, her work lives on, every day.