nonBlog — February 2010

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Batty—Sunday, February 28, 2010

I am beginning to think that my life is like the weather in New Hampshire—if I don’t like it, I just have to wait a few hours and it will change. One day I consider appearing on television to be something akin to facing the gallows, and the next the web show “Daytime in No Time” performs a skit based on remarks I made on The Early Show (near the end of the clip). One day I have no idea what the book of my dreams might be, the next I’m writing it, and the day after that I have my agent’s blessing. One day I am as ex a runner as ever an injured runner could be, and the next I am hunting for my old running tights to pack for my business trip tomorrow to Austin. I figure a few days from now I will get a call from NASA asking me to be the first writer to go on a shuttle mission to the moon—that’s about as likely as these three events seemed a week ago.
When I heard that Dell was putting me up until Thursday at the Aloft Hotel downtown, I had one and only one thought: I’ll have time to run the River Walk route again. The Colorado River cuts through downtown Austin, and when the city erected bridges over it they discovered that the bridges were the perfect size and shape to delight the local bat population, who promptly moved in. Every night at sunset from March to November, hundreds of thousands of bats emerge from under the arches in one big whoosh to go and feed. I learned of this phenomenon in the early nineties when I was writing a story about Dell for Fortune. I asked the concierge where I could find a three-mile running route. She sent me to the River Walk, where I bumped right into the bat thing and actually forced myself to stop every few hundred yards to read the informational placards that dot the path. It was the kind of serendipity that characterized my running career, the kind that created so many memories that are painful to me now that I can’t make new ones anymore. Or so I thought until last week, when I spontaneously ran a couple of miles through Central Park at midnight and managed somehow not to aggravate my pesky left hip (or be attacked).
I haven’t run again in the days since because I figured some divine messaging was involved and I needed a little time to crack the code. When I heard about the Austin trip, I wondered if the trick is that I can run without pain only on the infrequent occasions when I’m away from home. (Heck, it makes as much sense as any other explanation I can come up with.) So I rooted around in my drawers for some running clothes, only to find that they had disappeared. Did I throw them away? At first I gave up and chucked some yoga pants into my bag, but then I realized that I would have kept my running duds but hidden them away somewhere I wouldn’t have to look at them. I found them in a drawer with some never-worn Spanx.
My first day in Austin will be the first day of March—the first day of bat season. Has anyone informed the bats?


Takeoff—Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I spent the days before my CBS Early Show appearance in a state of dread so grave you’d think I was anticipating my scheduled beheading. But the night before, I calmed down. I sat on my in-laws’ sofa and looked out at their view of upper Manhattan, inexplicably confident that I would be just fine after all. They came home and took me to the Post House, where I ate a nice steak in perfect peace. I slept through the night and woke at 6, looking around warily, as if for the panic to arrive. It didn’t.
CBS sent a car that took me to the old FAO Schwarz building. A host of greeters and runners spirited me off to the Green Room, which turned out to be baby blue. Eliot Spitzer, the prostitute-patronizing ex-governor of New York, was prepping for his spot, and I considered hissing at him. Someone slapped a bunch of foundation and eyeliner on me while someone else poofed about with my hair and then there I was, riffing with Harry Smith and feeling as comfortable on national television as I had in my in-laws’ living room.
The producer asked me to come back and talk about office romance again, and I walked out into the city in a state of release akin to hearing that a higher court had granted me a stay of execution. I spent the rest of the day having coffee and lunch and drinks with my closest friends, ending the evening with dinner in Soho with my friend Deborah and a ride on a subway that spat me out onto Columbus Circle into a raging sleet storm.
I had no hat, no hood, no umbrella, and I was being pelted by the kind of stinging rain that leaves a mark when it hits your face. I was instantly wet through. It was near midnight and I walked quickly to the southwest corner of Central Park, the place where you triumphantly re-enter the park at the end of the New York Marathon. Three times I had felt that magic in the pretty era before I tore the lining of my hip and was condemned to a life without running. A song popped into my head: Massive Attack’s “Protection.” It’s a song from my dance class, and it’s slow and sultry but has a fast, insistent underbeat that always makes me want to move. Run, a voice said.
It wasn’t my voice—the little voice inside your head that tells you what to do. I don’t think it was my late father’s voice. I don’t know whose voice it was. I thought for an instant about the years of physical therapy it took to get me pain-free. I looked at the patches of snow, feeling myself transported back to another time, a time before I was injured, when running gave me things I didn’t know I needed. And I took off.
I was wearing leather Pumas, my heels stowed away in my handbag, and I had on tight Italian jeans and layers of silk and lace—nothing remotely appropriate for what I was doing. I didn’t worry about looking ridiculous. I didn’t worry about getting mugged. I was in a consequence-free zone, no worries permitted. I jogged tock tock tock on the balls of my feet, quick and light as if on eggs the way I learned to when I was training. I breathed deeply and slowly, marveling at how much more easily my lean, defined body ran than did the heavier, curvier physique I had a decade ago mid-babies.
I’ll stand in front of you
I’ll take the force of the blow

On and on I ran, over the little bridges and along the paths, clutching my handbag as if I were trying to catch a train. I passed Wollman Rink, lit like a night game and completely deserted. I followed the curve up to 72nd Street, flashing on hundreds of mornings when I came from our apartments on West 62nd or East 81st to log five miles before work. I looked at the witchy, wet, leafless trees and the white, perfect chunks of snow, utterly alone, remembering. I never felt in the least bit out of breath.
Sometimes you look so small
You need some shelter
Just running round and round, helter skelter
Exiting the park, I no longer had a physical body—I was flying low, just like in the dreams I used to have when I was a swimmer and I’d stroke my way through the air a few feet above the ground, free. Minutes later I reached my in-laws’ building, where I finally stopped. The doorman gave me a funny look and I walked into the elevator, my eyes burning. I peeled off my wet clothes and went to sleep.
It is the next day as I write this, and I’m not even sore.


Me and TV—Tuesday, February 16, 2010

CBS is flying me to New York this weekend to do a segment on The Early Show that is scheduled to air on Monday, February 22nd. I simply cannot get over the ability of “Office Mate” to generate national publicity without the corresponding sales. Last week’s Wall Street Journal mention moved the needle not a jot, and I have no doubt Monday’s interview will be the same. Our book so successfully made the point that office romance is acceptable that no one much thinks they have to read it in order to avoid mistakes. Check if you don’t believe me: on Sunday night, the book’s ranking will be, like, a jillion and nine. After my segment the ranking will leap six whole spots to a jillion and three. Helaine and I will be a buck richer. Or fifty cents richer, I should say, since we split the proceeds.
I’m doing the segment alone because Helaine has decided to call it a day, TV-wise. My process is exactly the opposite of hers. Before a TV appearance, I suffer on a scale that is somewhere between extremely anxious and frightened half out of my mind. But once I get up there and start talking, I am happy and confident. Helaine is chill right up until the camera starts rolling, whereupon she looks miserable at best and angry at worst. On the radio, however, she is a rock star. We have reached the stage of our careers when we no longer consider it a defeat to focus on our strengths.
Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I think there is something cosmic in the connection between having a big-three morning show call more than two years after “Office Mate” was published, and finally figuring out the title and theme of my memoir. The first thing I did after writing Chapter One, of course, was to start kicking myself that I hadn’t come up with it earlier. But I know that things happen when they’re supposed to, and my book is the same. It’s not the book I would have written at 30, and it’s not the one I would have written a year ago. It’s the book I’m supposed to write at the moment when I’m supposed to write it. And the call from CBS is a sign that I just might find a publisher (if there are any left) when it’s finished.
Maybe my late dad hasn’t crossed over after all.

Look Away—Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Today is the second anniversary of my father’s death. I’ve been dreading it for days, not because I thought I would be a basket case like last year, but because I’ve been feeling my father’s ghost transition away from me and I thought I would feel it even more acutely today. And I was right—I do. Something has definitely shifted.
I am possessed by the need to tell him two thoughts: one small and one big. I guess losing people is like that. You can’t decide what hurts more—not being able to tell them the little, everyday things, or not being able to tell them the big, life-changing things. The little thing I wish I could tell him is that I finally understand what is so fabulous about Johnny Cash. And the big thing I wish I could tell him is that after years of agonizing, questioning, and despairing about my inability to conceptualize and write my memoir, it finally came to me. I have a title; I have a theme. And at 4:00 in the morning on Saturday, I wrote the first chapter. It felt as right as any right thing I have ever written.
It never ceases to amaze me how often you get something you passionately, desperately want after accepting defeat. Over a year ago, after it became clear that publishing Office Mate had not moved me an inch closer to understanding what the book might be that nobody else can write but me, not to mention throwing up my hands over the demise of journalism as we know it, I decided to put my energies into my strategic writing consultancy. And after just a few months of effort, I have more clients than I can handle. So it’s now, when I’m no longer spending my hours in cafés writing creative nonfiction, that my book decides to reveal itself.
Maybe my dad will be the same way. I’ll stop looking for him, and there he’ll be.

A couple of notes: Today Office Mate is featured in a Wall Street Journal article that finally, more than two years after publication, agrees with our premise that office romance is no big deal. It’s a huge milestone, both for Helaine and me and for the subject. Also, there’s a new photo of the front and back of my head on the About Me page; if you think I look 156 years old or in some way muppety, please don’t tell me.

New, or Practically New

  • Fame and Fortune: Currently working on, and shocked to find I’m making headway with, the latter. Partly because of a bit of movement on the former. Perhaps endurance is the key to everything after all.