How to Write More: Insomnia and a (non) Tuesday Tribute

Insomniac Bears

Image courtesy of Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig: https://flic.kr/p/aUMTi8

Tuesday Tribute: Insomnia, and Two Months of Life

Here’s a new Tuesday Tribute for y’all: Insomnia. How it can be a muse and a curse, rolled into one.

It’s common that people with problematic insomnia stress about the insomnia itself. Because my insomnia is typically sporadic and directly tied to psychological background noise, it’s less of a worry that “I’ll never sleep a full night again!” or “I could never survive the next few months/years like this!” Because I am a general worrier, I can see how that kind of insomnia about insomnia would be terrifying. For now, it’s a muse and I’m using it. Writing can flow with more guts and insight when in that 5 a.m. wired state, watching the slow glow of the pre-dawn sky, keyboard tap tap tapping away.

This is why I find myself up at 4 a.m. on a night that I really needed sleep, itching to ruminate and write and pay bills and get stuff “done”. Marking off the checklist for the next few days. Googling for things that stressed me out enough to wake me up. Writing a blog post, this one right here, posting it before too much editing will get in the way of the flow.

Image courtesy of Fairy Heart: https://flic.kr/p/a2pCgZ

Image courtesy of Fairy Heart: https://flic.kr/p/a2pCgZ

I’m shocked to see that my last iteration of the Tuesday Tribute series was a whole two months ago. For that, I apologize. I’m personally both flummoxed and OK with how fast those two months have gone. Time in general speeds up as we age, most often it seems when we are trying to get things done or figure out our whole tangled lives or something profound in that regard.

And yes, I’ve been figuring out that tangled stuff for quite some time now, with the snowball finally rolling over me about two months ago, taking me along in its wake. Of course, it was a snowball of my own creation. I am the the one who makes snow. I am that thing that makes it possible to ski in New Mexico in November. I accept this, philosophically and metaphorically.

iamtheonewhomakessnow

I like quietness. In my head, typically. I used to think I liked it in my heart, too. Not too many complications, not too many things external to me to rely on or need to worry about. It’s part of why I don’t have kids – I would probably make a good parent but dear GAWD the pressure and stress and all that would drive me to either really screw them up or just put myself into an early health decline from all the freakouts in my own head. If nothing else, I think to not screw up a child in my care I’d have to meditate about 2 hours a day. I wonder how many parents attempt to modulate their own stress directly in that manner – with mindfulness and calm – rather than just suffer and slog through it, sleepless and stressed.

The quietness in the heart? That’s something I question lately. Perhaps that’s a midlife crisis sort of thing – the slowly awakening realization, sometimes over years, that you just might want to crank up the volume knobs on one’s own experience – not just the good and the not-so-good but rather the extremes of AMAZING and (potentially) DEVASTATING. Or, perhaps the midlife crisis so enmeshed in our culture is not so much a volume adjustment as it is a swap out of the walkman constantly strapped to your head for a window-shattering car stereo you can ride off with into the sunset. Or some B.S. analogy like that. I apologize. Usually my analogies are way better.

So here’s my real Tuesday Tribute, posted on a Wednesday but thought up the night before: my own insomniac muse. May she continue to spur little writing jaunts, bursts of productivity, and displays of heart-on-sleeve that seem to only result in long-term good in my life. Cheers to the muse.

2014-11-03heartonsleeve

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Tuesday Tribute: Erika Napoletano

Today’s Tuesday Tribute is Erika Napoletano. There are a lot of ways to summarize her personality, from ass-kicking public speaker, motivational coach to Gen X laggards like myself, esquisite and judicious potty-mouth, and heart-forward strong woman.

Erika doing something she does really well - not having a lot of f*s to give.

Erika doing something she does really well – not having a lot of f*s to give.

Technically, including Erika is a little bit of a cheat – I actually have not met her in person, but we have conversed over email and I’ve devoured much of what she’s wrote in the last 6 years.

So, who the fuck is she? (Yes, for this installation I’m bringing out the bombs.) Her bio lists off her attributes: the things she can do for her clients like get people UNstuck in whatever thing their life is presenting, her choice in bicycles, her appreciation for warm coats in Chicago winters, and her published works both online and in hardback.

BUT. To me it is the last bit of her About page that is actually important and what makes her work so useful:

And she is happy.

Ridiculously happy.

Because it is happy people who ooze that juju out of their pores, out of their sparkling eyes, out of their manners and way of speaking. Watch her TEDx talk in Boulder. At the end she does a spontaneous victory dance – the only indication in the whole video that she was terrified all along.

How do people become happy? That’s a ridiculously difficult question that occupies many a writer and thinker. Many people seem to have a default happiness “set point” that they come back to even after periods of trajedy or prosperity – that is, if you lose your job you’ll come back to the same level just like you will if you win the lottery. The “amount” of happiness that set point represents varies from person to person. But that doesn’t mean you are doomed to your default level – I believe that a measure of grace and happiness can grow from terrible loss. We all know someone who only really started living after their cancer diagnosis or scare.

For Erika, it was the death of a new love, a potential soul-mate, if you believe in such things. When she first met him, he was a fan of her work and they became quick friends. Then, she says, “And that night, a friendship began that grew into something I never expected: the beginnings of a relationship where I never had to be anything but myself.”

Jason died four years ago, on Halloween, after two months of joy building that relationship with Erika. Two months. But here is why Erika is here on this post – it is what she did publicly – the very next day, in fact – when it happened. She ripped her heart open bare on her blog, grieving in real-time for the world to see.

Today is day one. Tomorrow is day two. I’m scared shitless of days three and four. Five is horrific. Six – incomprehensible.

She had nothing to lose and – perhaps – had a glimmer of a thought that in the long-term this kind of vulnerability would help someone who chanced into reading it. She was right about that, even for people who didn’t suffer as deeply as her. I felt sorrow reading her Jason story, even though I’ve never lost someone in that way. It drew me in and added to the respect I’d already built for Erika’s work.

That’s why I chose her, this week. She along with writers like Brene Brown and Ella Francis Sanders and Cheryl Strayed (in her Dear Sugar days) are all trafficking in pure openness of heart. You gotta love that.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Almost every week. Always Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Kaila Prins, vibrant podcaster and hug addict

I invite female friendships into my life because they don’t seem to come naturally, at least not in my history. My tomboy predilictions has made for a small circle of women around me, but once in a while a rare one breaks through – that’s Kaila Prins.

Paleo f(x) 2013: we first meet! Kaila with the LOVE shirt.

Paleo f(x) 2013: we first meet! Kaila with the LOVE shirt.

Kaila (“ky-lah”) and I met a year and a half ago, at a conference in Austin for Paleo-ish folks, called Paleo f(x). Within a day we’d hit it off and spent hours talking about the ideas we had to bring this amazing thing – a lifestyle grounded in real food, real nature, and real movement – to a much larger audience. Podcasting seemed like a good way to start building momentum, and while I languished over the usual ephemera, Kaila used her blog, In My Skinny Genes, to launch Finding Our Hunger in less than two months. She used her voice to tease out the intricacies of women’s relationships to their own lives, whether that was a hunger for change or just for chocolate.

Because I’ve seen the change it’s made for her – how fans will approach and talk about how much they get out of each show – it’s renewed my interest in creating a podcast. THAT’S what personal inspiration is about and comes from: this Tuesday Tribute, human interactions, friendships, everything. When you open up around people like Kaila, you receive equal or more.

Since then she’s just been doing more and exploring what it means to be Kaila, and how she can use what she knows to reach and help as many people as possible. Her physical woes with repeated ankle surgeries means that she can empathize with anyone struggling with chronic pain or limited mobility. Her movement to embrace hugging and promote addiction – to oxytocin – was and is an amazing meme. Play along with #hugsarepaleo – there’s no time limit!!!

Kaila on the right, hugging for oxytocin.

Kaila on the right, hugging for oxytocin.

There are women in my life who have impacted me because of the contents of their life – what they’ve done, how they do it, and how they have succeeded despite a difficult past – or even how they are working toward an inevitable success. Kaila is no exception, and in her I can claim the bonus of being a close friend.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot – lover of life, cheese, islands

Part of a Carey selfie

Part of a Carey selfie

“Did I ever tell ya about this guy I met with the Cuban restaurant?”

“Did you know that the cheese at XX restaurant came from XX weird country?”

“I’m so busy – I have so much to tell you!”

Not long after I met Carey, she began to bombard me with every little interesting thing going on in Albuquerque’s restaurant scene. It was dizzying and awesome. Who was fired, who just opened a new place (and if it sucked or not), which place was doomed…. it’s just her nature to be gregarious while cultivating a wide network of friends. Carey has had her hands in the local food scene for many years – everything from her own gourmet shop to cheese distribution to burger joint mastermind to French pastry seller to chocolatier‘s administrator.

Carey is one of those women who is instantly on your radar, usually in a fabulous way. She’s blunt, energetic, and enthusiatic. She’ll tell you about her drama-filled family shenanigans, point out that you have something in your teeth, and then reach into her purse for the gift she couldn’t help but get for you, all while asking if you’ve had the sweetbreads at some new place in the North Valley.

How did I meet Carey? That’s a story I’m racking my brain trying to dig the nuggets out. Was it email? Possibly. Was it before she opened her amazing Downtown Grocery store (which lasted only a few years before vanishing into the local food nostalgia-sphere)? It doesn’t really matter how we first met. Our friendship is punctuated and enduring. Lately we seem to meet up for an overly long lunch or social hour at least once a year, but boy those months go screaming by.

 

She’s been through a lot – with her spunk and experience you can’t really avoid a vibrant life – but nothing is as interesting to her as what’s next. Plans are her thing, and boy does she have some awesome ones that involve building and travel and new places to live. She’s an island fan, so I’ll leave it at that.

Here’s to a lot more years, and many more three hour lunches.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Katie DeSplinter

Hi kids. I’m back on the posting wagon, finally, with another Tuesday Tribute. The schedule goes back to weekly from now until eternity or I run out of amazing women in my life. That could be awhile. But now, on to Katie DeSplinter, ultrawoman of mystical powers. She doesn’t break bad, she breaks excellent.

Katie downhilling a not so technical trail. (from iRunFar.com)

Katie downhilling a not so technical trail. (from iRunFar.com)

Me: “Holy shit you’re running amazingly fast!” Katie: “Not as fast as those guys!” Me: “No one runs as fast as those guys. Seriously.”

Those guys were Dominic Grossman & Co, screaming down a loose cannonball run of babyhead rocks next to a steep creek drop-off on the way towards Grouse Gulch on the Hardrock Hundred course. It was a training day, but it seemed to me that Katie was getting some serious turnover practice for future racing days ahead.

Katie is a new person in my circle, but one of influence in just a few encounters. She’s learning her way around racing ultramarathons in one of the most open and generous and patient ways I’ve seen. She blogs about her successes, her worries, her failures, and the intersection of all three. Case in point, AC100 this year was planned to be a dream race, sub-24, with everything looking pretty good. Then, worries about training load (too little) and previous issues with kidneys (too much) and finally, she just went and did it. The write-up is pretty spectacular and takes a meandering course through angst, joy, flow, bloody pee, and rain in Los Angeles. Yep.

“The only thing I honestly feel right now is everything.” – Katie

Just read it, already.

Are ya back after reading that? Good. Now, let’s talk about AC in general. She’s part of the overly-feared next generation of young ultrarunners. Young ‘cuz she is only 31 – the age at which I knocked off from ultras and went down the marathon rabbit-hole for 5 years, losing all sense of moderation and some of my bone density in the process – and yet she is capable of winning races. A few for now, but more to come I’m sure. Her generation (really a sub-generation, but whatever) is overly feared by some in the long-standing ultra camp who think youth entails enthusiasm at the cost of respect. But in many young runners, as well as many older runners, the respect and volunteerism and community are part of the ultra life. They give back. They volunteer and crew and pace with abandon. They do trail work. They organize their own races (hello Nick and Jamil), adding to the pool of awesomeness out in the country and world.

But enough about other runners. Katie’s getting the podium today. I ran into her, not quite literally, on the PCT outside of Los Angeles last weekend. She was running with a friend, as was I, in opposite directions. The four of us stopped to chatter about everything under the warm sun, only finally disbanding when we all realized we probably should get back to our respective days. She sported a hat that can only be pictured to be appreciated.

Katie says 25% of people get it. I'm surprised it's that high. (by Geoff Cordner)

Katie says 25% of people get it. I’m surprised it’s that high. (by Geoff Cordner)

It’s a snarky hat from a snarky 2008 youtube phenomenon, but underneath the hat is a good dose of earnestness. Without the dippy video, this could actually be Katie’s motto. Do what you like and give zero Fs to those who stand in your way without reason.

That’s why she is here. Another woman making me rethink what it means to be solid in your own self.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

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. 

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.