Race to Ravenswood: Crypt 5K 2016

Last night I ran a 5K through Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago! But I had an entire adventure before crossing the start line. To me that was better than any haunted house– a truly authentic Halloween experience.

Traffic for the Cubs game and Chicago Marathon was horrendous– I arrived in my designed SpotHero parking garage with only 15 minutes to start time. There were no cabs.

And so I took off running! I had 1.6 miles to traverse, relying on Google Maps’ walking. My route was not unfamiliar– I had driven that way myriad times over the years visiting friends in Evanston. From N. Sheridan to Bryn Mawr to N. Ridge to W. Hollywood and on… finally to Rosehill Dr. and N Ravenswood Ave.

I’ve been alone in Chicago plenty. But on foot at night I’ve never usually walked more than a few blocks, from my parking spot to whoever I was visiting or wherever I was going.

And here I was, running alone in the dark through it! I alternated walking.

I felt no fear. There was something wonderful about hoofing it alone on the way– a warm-up. AND I saved money. Plus, Edgewater is one of the safer areas of the city.

I had asked several people to do the race with me, and about five were interested– but all ended up backing out. I am so glad I didn’t allow that to stop my own plans.

On the way I used the bathroom at a gas station, and walked too far and had to turn around a couple times. I was about 22 minutes late starting– my first time ever being late for a race.

It took me about 40 minutes to arrive, and when I saw that start banner I was excited! The crowd had dispersed and no one was cheering. But I was proud of myself.  But I got myself psyched up, yelling as I continued on and soon was entering the graveyard! There were purple and green flashing lights, smoke. Quite the spooky atmosphere.

Many were in costumes but I kept it simple, sporting a normal race outfit with the event t-shirt and a thermal underneath.

Most were just walking along, so it was easy to pass people. I had brought a small flashlight for safety– the path was easy to follow. Little orange electric candles on both sides of the path did the job, plus orange traffic cones with arrow signs taped on. Certain enormous tombstones and memorials were lit up.

I stopped to admire a few of the graves. I asked a pair of female friends to take a picture of me by one of them.

But mostly I just ran! I didn’t feel jealous of the couples or families or people with friends.

It was awesome doing this solo. It was peaceful and breathtaking. I was safe and happy.

I have never felt like such a bad ass! Running a 5K alone in a Chicago graveyard at night! I think it was my first-ever race totally alone, where I wasn’t meeting up with someone after, at least.

And my time was great! I shaved off about four minutes of my usual per-mile pace.

Crossing the finish line, I was ready to head home. There was a post-race party at a bar closeby, but a friend of mine in Plainfield was celebrating his birthday. My phone was at less than half battery capacity, and I wasn’t up for another trek back to my parking garage. So I asked a woman about the closest intersection to find a cab, and followed her advice. A cabbie in the drive-thru for White Castle waved at me.

Pretty hilarious! He pulled up a few minutes later and I gave him my parking garage address. He was friendly, making conversation. He asked how often I come to Chicago and I found myself answering that these days it’s mostly for races, which is true!

He couldn’t believe I hadn’t found anyone to race with, saying “You’re a charming lady.”

Well! Thanks. 🙂 He was impressed I had walked there, as well. “It’s a long walk,” he said.

After my car was brought around, I tipped the valet and drove to the party! Not bad at all.

The Only Way Up a Hill

is to run.

Sure, you could walk.

But tonight when I went for a run, there was something magical about gunning up as fast as I could.  I felt strong and young and free– and I didn’t have a time limit or someplace to go.

In three months, I haven’t had any blisters or blackened toenails. Partially because I have yet to break serious mileage but also because I invested in good shoes upfront.

But man, the exhilaration! I ran up and down and across–

a big hill, a bridge, a small foothill.

Repetition. I was my own coach!

I was shocked how much I enjoyed it– especially on the wooden bridge crossing the river. Hearing myself pound those boards, the feel of the wood giving beneath my feet– yet knowing I’m totally safe.

Tonight I let myself deviate a bit from routine.

I loved the drill of it, seeing people out with their kids and dogs. I loved being one of those people just out enjoying nature, passing the other runners and bikers. There’s an unspoken kinship.

If I’m slowing down to walk, seeing another runner lights a fire under me to get back to work.

I’m in all my neon running gear, totally clashing.

I’m listening to ’80s pop on Pandora, singing along as I go.

I could just imagine Dexy’s Midnight Runners crooning instead,

“Come on A-MEE, oh,

I swear what he means, (what he means,)

at this moooooo-ment,

you mean everything…”

Or, bless them, Heart:

“How do I geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet you ALLLLLLLLOOOOONE? A-looooooooooooooone…

I’m chasing that famous runner’s high. And it seems to kick in around 2.5 miles for me– I feel like I could just keep going, if only I let myself. By then I’m sweating something glorious, my heart is banging, my breathing has evened out– my legs and feet don’t hurt at all.

Tonight I made it 3.46 miles in 47.16 minutes.

I’mma get there!

Five miles. It’s gonna happen before summer is over.

On Turning 34, Lauren Bacall, and Feminine Power

I turned 34-years-amazing on November 4.

Originally, I had planned to drive a nature preserve out of town and spend some time alone.

Instead I chose to stay local so that I could vote, enjoy my community, and see people I care about.

My first idea seemed cool. Except that I already am a bit of a loner, so the more challenging thing was to get out there and mingle for a change.

And I’m happy with my choice. I decided to put on something that made me feel glamorous and powerful: a suit.

I used separate pieces– a new maroon blazer I bought myself, along with a pencil skirt and my favorite boots. The blazer has sleeves that roll up with a pinstripe pattern, and two buttons. The night before I had gone shopping and decided I’ve been putting my money mostly toward necessities for so long: gas, food, bills. I can’t remember the last time I bought a new outfit or accessories. Usually what I do buy for myself has nothing to do with fashion or beauty: books and journals. I’ve become so intellectual and contemplative I’ve largely neglected my appearance for the past year.

In my younger days, every year I’d splurge and buy myself a fabulous birthday ensemble. I’d get my hair blown out, my nails done, I’d buy myself a sophisticated dress and some cute costume jewelry to match and probably some new shoes. I’d plan a big party for myself and take tons of pictures with my friends.

I used to love to go out! I still love to dance. I really enjoyed dressing up back then. The past few years, I’ve considered it tedious and a waste of money.

I don’t have the cash to treat myself this year the way I did back then. But I’ve still got style.

But sometimes it just really feels GOOD to spend money on yourself. And why shouldn’t I? I’m not supporting anyone besides myself.

I treated myself to mascara from Lancome, for the first time ever. Even the tube is beautiful.

And I put myself together, with a gold theme. My dangly earrings and bracelet were costume, but that’s fine by me. They’re still fabulous! I didn’t wear a jacket.

I stopped by the library cafe. I saw a business man, who looked at me and was impressed. He complimented my earrings. He asked if he could buy me lunch and I told him I’d already ordered, but he could sit with me. Normally I would have probably declined and sat alone.

And we had a lovely conversation. It wasn’t flirting– it was just two people having a respectful, delightful conversation. He’s traveled all over the world and done a lot of work for peace. We talked about faith. He gave me his card and asked for mine. I felt like an equal– not intimidated at all.

Why *shouldn’t* I have a card? I did as a reporter. I loved it.

Maybe it’s time to design my own.

Then I voted. On a political day, I felt like I fit in, dressed professionally.

I enjoyed dinner with my parents at a nice restaurant out of town, a victory! I got them to break routine.

I drank Voss sparkling water and adored it.

And after, my friend Kaela and I met at a local combination movie/dinner venue to see a classic: “To Have or Have Not,” with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. I wasn’t aware it was their first picture together, nor Bacall’s first film. She was only 19 in it.

The attendant lead us into an elevator, upstairs and down a hallway lined with movie poster memorabilia. We went into a small room with black leather couches! The movie was showing black and white, as well.

I was mesmerized. I am such a dork that I took two pictures of the movie with my phone. They came out great.

For such a young age, Bacall exudes poise. That unmistakable and unique Forties glamour– conservative. Unapologetically stylish. Her voice doesn’t have much cadence– she’s very still. You rarely see many facial expressions, except for a smirk. What’s riveting is her absence of action.

I’ve never seen a woman embody “playing it cool,” the way she did. WOW.

And I thought, “THAT is what I need to emulate.” The woman is a BOSS.

There is tremendous power in being quiet. In choosing your thoughts. In cultivating understated.

When you don’t demand attention, people are drawn in. I’ll pass on the smoking, however!

My friend had never seen the film either, and we marveled equally.

Afterward, we goofed around in the lobby, posing with movie posters and taking a few pictures of each other.

It was just a day where I felt in command of my femininity. Energized by it.

There’s something about taking yourself seriously– you command respect.

I’m glad I didn’t just throw on jeans and tromp into the woods on my 34th birthday. I can do that anytime.

Instead, I celebrated myself. I didn’t have a big party, but made plans to do things I really wanted. My birthday was on a Tuesday and I celebrated it that day. I spent time with my parents and one of my closest friends for the past four years.

I felt beautiful, strong, in control.

I’m glad I wore that suit to see this movie.

I’m going to rebuild a wardrobe of beautiful clothes that I love.

I’m going to take myself more seriously.

I’m going to own my beauty without apologizing.

And channel Bacall like a boss.

Frozen’s Elsa and Wicked’s Elphaba: Women Free and Proud

So I just saw “Frozen,” and I went alone.

And I’m so glad!

It was really the perfect movie tonight. I’ve been feeling a bit morose with all the snow and frigid temperatures. I’ve been avoiding going many places unless it’s work or absolutely necessary. Haven’t been able to see my friends as much. A bit o’ cabin fever!

And I’m delighted to find a Disney movie that champions the notion of “true love,” as that between two sisters– not just a romantic relationship.

One sister, Elsa, is ashamed her her powers– which she hides from everyone. She feels it’s a deformity, much like Princess Fiona did in “Shrek.” When she leaves the kingdom in a scandal, she breaks out into the wilderness and transforms into the truest version of herself. She rejected the facade she initially held for her kingdom– and came into her full power

Previously set to be queen of her homeland, she was in conservative royal clothes and hair.

Alone, Elsa blooms into a different kind of queen: one who smiles, who runs free with abandon. Her hair comes down, her ensemble transforms into something majestic. And without the fear of society’s reactions, she doesn’t have to wear gloves to contain her ice magic. She can let it go, with JOY. And she builds herself an ice castle, where she doesn’t feel lonely. She feels HERSELF. She’s not afraid. She’s relieved.

“The cold never bothered me anyway.”

And of course, her sister Anna comes after her–

I won’t spoil EVERYTHING. 🙂

But I love Elsa so much. I relate to her. She felt she had to be a certain way– stoic, perfect, for the public. Always in control. She was always composed, but never showed her fears. She dealt with things on her own. She was afraid of her own power.

That’s how I feel about writing. And this blog. I’ve built a certain image here. But I’m not perfect.

I’m not always happy. I get mad. I just don’t show it to many. I tend to pray and write and deal with that on my own.

Writing is a power that I don’t yet know how to manage, I’m still figuring it out. I’m getting a handle on managing a blog that makes me or less a public figure– even on a small scale.

I only share my true feelings with a small circle.

And I find a lot of love and support in my friends, especially my female friends. I have some great male friends, too.

Being single is like being in the wilderness. I’m still finding my way.

And winter has always been my favorite season, just like Elsa.

But that song, “Let it Go,” is ringing in my mind. Even more because Idina Menzel, one of my favorite actresses since “Wicked,” is singing it.

I haven’t loved a musical song this much since “Defying Gravity.” They’re both about freedom.

About trusting your own potential. About venturing out, alone. And Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, is a character defined by the her passion for justice– which left her feeling mostly isolated from her peers. “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,’ is a Gregory Maguire novel I’ve read several times. Elphaba Thropp is probably my favorite literary heroine. She feels isolated in every way. She doesn’t feel a spiritual connection to God, though her father is a preacher. She is keenly intelligent and sarcastic– but many bully her because she’s green. Because she thinks differently. She doesn’t find her purpose until she drops out of college and ventures away, alone. The book is so much more adult than the musical– darker, richer. It encompasses religion, politics, racism, and questions about the definition of evil. Does Elphaba have a soul? She doesn’t believe she does. But she spends her life dedicated to a passionate belief, though she stumbles many times. She endures a lot of loss. She doesn’t think her life amounts to much. But her legacy lives on, and we see by the end of the novel that her work mattered to many, even if she didn’t realize it was important at the time.

I don’t know how I got over here! But this is me. Wandering, connecting disparate things.

I like the way my mind works. It’s creative. It’s not afraid to roam.

And I like that Elsa stands confident and alone at the end of the movie. Just like Elphaba.

Both “E” names. Both played by Idina Menzel. Both wonderful role models for women.

Feminists.

After Mass: On Religion, Love, and the Gift of Faith

During Mass today, I realized what it’s about. Why I go.

Why we put up with all the idiosyncrasies of religion– the demands, the divisiveness.

We do it to be part of something bigger than ourselves. To share our lives in the midst of chaos and find a still point.

We do it to admit, “I need help. I can’t do do this alone.”

Admitting we need help is the hardest thing for most humans to do. We want to be self-reliant, we want to be okay, no matter what.

I love my church, because during peace, people walk around with open arms. They shake your hand, look you in the eye, smile.

My parents are local, and I enjoy seeing them. However, I don’t have siblings, and my family lives out of state. So I do feel lonely at times.

But in this church, I get hugs, just like I do with my family. And although there are still a lot of things I’m figuring out about my life, this church makes me feel anchored. Singing songs of praise makes me feel anchored. We spend the week busy, scrambling to get things done– we deserve to rest and just be thankful for what God has given us! To stand with others and testify that yes, we’re glad to be standing here, together. The services in my church usually run two hours– and I love that! At other churches, they are usually only 45 minutes to an hour, and everyone usually rushes right out after Holy Communion, and barely talks at all if they do stay. People in this church linger. A few times a month, they head into the parish hall for coffee. There’s no rush, they want to meet you, get to know you.

That makes me feel so happy. It’s just a simple church– and that’s why I like it. It’s not high-falutin’, it’s not about artifice.

It’s just about love, service, and appreciation.

Knowing that a family is depending on me to bring them Holy Communion anchors me.

I know that I can’t live my life alone, and that I’m never alone.

I’m learning that God is more than Bible verses and dogma. It’s more than prayer and Confession.

God is truly very basic.

God is a secure feeling of love.

God is a warmth in your heart that says, “Go ahead, you don’t have to be scared. I’m with you.”

God is the absolute confirmation that all you are, and all you haven’t been– is enough, because you’re doing the best you can.

And mostly, God is feeling so overwhelmed with that truth that all you want to do is share it with others.

And not by conversion– but by acceptance. By example. By trusting.

Be kind. Forgive. Help, with no expectations or conditions.

I feel God with me today. It’s an incredible lightness, to help us float through the storm.

We don’t need to know where we’re going or why– only that we’re on the right path.

The Beauty of Solitude: Celebrating My Nerdiness

It’s Friday night a little past 10 p.m., and I’m at home.

I love it!

It’s funny, how much I’ve changed in the last decade.

A ton!

I used to be so hyper-social that I went out constantly. I loved it. I also loved calling people up and talking their ears off.

I always laugh when I remember one phone conversation with a former college friend.

She had told me, “Amee, I need to get off the phone soon.”

About 20 minutes ago. I was still going! No sign of stopping. I could really be a motor-mouth.

She realized I couldn’t be stopped, and just yelled, “I’m hanging up on you!”

I couldn’t stop laughing, because she knew me so well and I couldn’t even be offended by it.

Hey, sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I tell that story all the time, because it’s hilarious.

When you’re besties, you have the freedom to do stuff like that without worrying.

The funny thing is, it seems I’ve grown out of this. Now I don’t talk nearly as much.

I more often choose to stay in, especially on weekend nights.

I make plans, not very often. I’ve largely avoided crowded gatherings and parties this year.

I sometimes make exceptions, and often when I do it’s spur-of-the-moment.

Sometimes I feel rested enough, and other times I don’t. Rest is vital to me.

When I was younger, I’d go to parties just because I RSVP’d, whether I felt up to it or not.

Now I’ve realized that you’ve gotta make your own health you’re first priority. And if you have to cancel, people may be disappointed, but they usually understand. I’ve become more of an introvert. I like to read, write, and spend time alone. I can be quite social and also talk to a bunch of people, but not for long periods of time. I get exhausted from all that talking! Then I need some alone time to recharge.

I enjoy my friends, but I don’t need to see them as often. We can sustain our friendships quite well by phone and facebook. A lot of my other friends are nerds like me, so they get it. I love communicating by written word and e-mail, too.

So when I do make plans with people, they know they’re dang special! Because I do it on a choosy basis these days.

And that’s all good with me.

Why keep dating, when it’s so ridiculous? We need the eggs!

When you’re single, everyone bombards you with relationship advice.

Chief among it is, “Stop looking.”

I’ve tried that. But ultimately, it’s not for me. I’m inherently quixotic, and proud!

To stop “looking” is to stop enjoying the possibility of happiness with another person. To stop flirting, to stop having butterflies. I think too many of us get wounded after a harrowing break-up and just shut down and declare our hearts off-limits for too long. Or we get hung up on an ex and are oblivious to the new opportunities to have something even better. We try to take control by saying that we don’t need anyone, and become afraid of failure in our next relationship. And sadly, our reluctance to “get hurt” again is often what leads us to miss genuine opportunities to share again with someone who wants to be with us. They may be exactly what we need, but if we are convinced we’re “not looking,” we may not see them in time. People move on when you don’t let them in.

And truth is, I enjoy the search! It enlivens me.

To me, it’s worth it. Yes, it can be exhausting and demoralizing at times.  But gosh, it’s also exalting, silly and GOOD for us.  The hope of finding something extraordinary– even if it’s not permanent– is good enough for me. It feels incredible to care about someone else– to give without expecting anything in return. To admire and respect someone and embrace their faults– and yours. To let go. To trust.

You can always play it safe and remain unattached and single. You won’t get hurt– and you won’t be loved, either.

Yes, I’ve been hurt. My feelings have been unrequited. I’ve been dumped. But I’ve also hurt, and that doesn’t make me a terrible woman. We are bound to hurt someone, simply by being honest and making decisions about who we want to become involved with– or not.

I don’t hate anyone who I’ve become involved with– and I wish them well. I’m grateful to them for caring, for showing me parts of myself that I was unaware of– good and bad. For taking me on stupid dates and posh ones. For holding my hand, calling me in the middle of the day, sending flowers, picking me up at the airport, for caring about my writing and believing in me even when I didn’t. For listening to me and remembering details. For leaving me voice mails while singing  songs, and playing guitar. For cooking for me. For making my friends jealous. For telling me to reject shame and take risks, to be proud of who I am. For complimenting my character, intelligence, and treating me like a lady. For making dirty jokes and checking me out and making me feel like a woman!  For writing gushy PDA things on my wall or even gasp– MySpace! For writing songs for me, sending love letters, meeting my parents, and making an effort to get to know my friends. For giving me little gifts that make me blush with surprise and delight. For reading and commenting on my blogs, and talking about my column with me. For picking me up, even when it’s out of the way. For asking about my life. For knowing when to shut up and just hold me. For saying I can call in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep, and then answering  and making me laugh. For giving me kisses that make my brain short-circuit! For giving me a life-saving hug, and telling me I look hot when I’m wearing no make-up, having a bad hair day,  and in scummy clothes. For calling instead of texting. For cute e-mails. For driving hours to see me when I lived in a different city, every weekend. For taking a train from Chicago to see me. For introducing me to their families. For saying “No,” when I wanted to break-up, and fighting me on it. For letting me go when it was truly over. For being honest when I needed to be called out, and caring enough to fight with me. For apologizing. For letting me be right sometimes, even when I’m not. For forgiving everything that was unsaid and accepting me as I am.

These are all moments in my dating history that have impacted me positively and remind me of why I refuse to be jaded and “stop looking.”

I’ve enjoyed some relationships that were circuitous and intense, some that were instant and simple, some that were just a date or few but nevertheless left an impression.

If you get your heart broken, good for you. You’re LIVING. I don’t believe any more that if a relationship ends– or doesn’t happen– that it’s a “waste of time.” Or that it negates the connection you had, and somehow it’s less true because it’s over. I’m full of optimism, and proud of the resilience I’ve cultivated in this Scorpio heart of mine.

It can take a long time for me to open up to someone. I want to trust them first, and see that they’re invested in me equally.

But I’m a giver, and I want someone to give to.  I feel better already admitting that.

I don’t think there’s any better way to explain why we put ourselves through the glory and trauma of dating than Alvy Singer’s comment at the end of “Annie Hall.”

We need the eggs, that’s all there is to it.

In the meantime, I’ll continue looking and be inspired.