What’s next?

By this time last year, I was almost done culling all the committees from my calendar.

I had thought contributing to those groups would make me happy, or at least make me feel like a good person, but it didn’t. Instead, I felt drained and uninspired. I felt removed from the charities I was supporting and smothered by the childish infighting among people who were supposedly present to give back to the community. I learned – not quickly, but eventually – that volunteers aren’t always compassionate, board members aren’t always competent, and adults aren’t always as mature as the average 7th grader. I learned to dread my committee meetings with a stomach-turning, lung-strangling anxiety. I learned that doing something “good” can feel shockingly bad.

So I stopped. I gracefully left everything (after completing significant milestones and transitioning my role to replacements; I’m not a monster). When I was free, it took a little while to enjoy the space to breathe, the space to think about the difference between having a full life and having a fulfilling life.

With Jenn’s help, I tried to figure out what I want(ed) and what I am(was) passionate about. My success was limited. The only target I could settle on with certainty was running. I wanted to run a marathon. Had wanted to for years. Had put it off knowing if I was making excuses for why I shouldn’t do it, then I shouldn’t do it. But I wasn’t making excuses any longer. In fact, I had cleared my schedule, and I needed something to feel good about.

I could write pages and pages on my marathon training – already have, in fact – but for the purposes of this post, all you need to know is from November 2016 when I decided to run, to February 2017 when I started my for realz training, to May when I (re-)injured my knee and had to change my marathon plans, to June when I started over, to September 23 when I completed my first full marathon ever in effing Grand Forks, North Dakota of all places… I did feel good. I felt purposeful and strong and accomplished. Even during the abject shittiness of my injury, I was driven to meet my goal.

And then, about three days after it was over, I felt lost. Aimless.

And stupid.

Obviously, while I spent my year running in temperatures that ranged from -25 to +30 degrees (that’s -13 to +86 degrees for you nonsensical Americans. Seriously. Fahrenheit is bonkers), while I spent hours curating my running playlist and vetting audio books, while I got lost on lonely, marshy trails at the cabin and took too many left turns in the maze of identical houses in the new development down Henderson Highway, I should have also been asking myself the question, “what’s next?”

But I didn’t do that.

I didn’t ask myself “what’s next?” until about three days after the marathon was over, when I was already in “next.” And I didn’t have an answer.

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Exploring audio books on foot: part three

Robert, erm, J.K. was great, but her audio books could only last so long in a marathon training schedule that went on for 31 weeks. Plus, I listened to a huge chunk of the third novel while painting the new garage. Whoops!

But I had an advantage, because this time when questing for the right audio book for running, I knew what I was looking for. I wanted a book like the Cormoran Strike novels. A week or so of research, recommendations, and message boards later, I found Tana French and the Dublin Murder Squad series.

What to say about these excellent novels? Tana French is a good writer, the narrators are strong, and the mysteries are intriguing. The first novel in the series, In the Woods,  was eerie and interesting. The second, The Likeness, even more so. Haunting but fast paced. Dark without being dreary. Layered characters who you actually like. A mystery that leaves a little mystery behind after the conclusion.

Even better, I found that the series was well established. The sixth book had recently been published. Perfect! Hours of running entertainment! And then I went to download the third novel in the series, and found that the audio books for 3-5 in the series aren’t available in Canada. Damn.

I would not be burned again. I limited my search to Canadian mystery writers, and very soon came across the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels by Louise Penny. Not only are these great for running, the narrator for the first six novels – Adam Sims – is extraordinary. I was right pissed off when the middling Ralph Cosham took over the narration for book seven. Anyway, it’s nice to read something unabashedly Canadian, or Canadien rather. Plus, the Quebecois accents have really helped with my poor French pronunciation. I’m on book eight now, and I am admittedly getting a bit worn out, but the series did build nicely to book six.

So that’s it, that’s all. Go listen to something.

 

Exploring audio books on foot: part two

Continuing…

Aside from feminist comediennes and sport-based biographies, mysteries are the audio books that keep my legs rolling forward.

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Me after finishing 19 miles… listening to an audio book, of course

A few months ago, I would have told you that mystery is not a genre I choose. This would have been a lie. Apparently, I’ve selectively remembered my childhood obsession with Nancy Drew (remind me to post my Nancy Drew shelves, where I’ve collected 90% of the original 56 tales with their classic covers) and my favourite recommendations from my days as a bookseller, which were, at their hearts, mysteries (The Thirteenth Tale, The Rule of Four, Gentlemen and Players). I should not have been surprised that I like mysteries so much. But I was. So much for self-awareness.

I started off with The Girl on the Train, because everybody seemed to love it. Mass appeal equals a relatively uncomplicated style plus a fast-paced plot: the perfect equation for an audio book whose primary purpose is distraction. I did not enjoy The Girl on the Train. I’m not sure why anyone does. It’s not suspenseful, it’s boring. It’s like only reading the second half of Gone Girl. I tried running to it twice and stopped because it was making me (or time) slower. I finished it while digging out new gardens in the front yard, the physical work thankfully distracting me from the book’s tedium (this is the polar opposite of its intended purpose). Not a successful first choice.

But I didn’t give up, mostly because when I continued to Google “best audio books for running,” a host of mystery novels kept popping up among Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling and Born to Run. Sure, many lists recommended The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl (and these articles were quickly nixed), but one in particular suggested Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling.

jk-rowling-robert-galbraithNow, for all of you regular humans, Robert Galbraith is a pen name of the goddess J.K. Rowling, author of the much-lauded and world-shifting Harry Potter series. I, by consequence of being a bookworm, a fantasy nerd, a person with splendid taste, and someone who was born in 1988 and thus grew up with the characters as the series progressed, am a deeply committed Harry Potter fan. But I had never read any of J.K.’s adult fiction. There was no reason to believe that I wouldn’t like it, and there were many reasons to believe I would be highly diverted by her storytelling prowess, so I downloaded The Cuckoo’s Calling and introduced myself to Strike and Robin.

It was love. This was exactly the type of mystery made for running. Once I warmed to the characters, which, admittedly, took a good third of the novel, I enjoyed the dynamic plot. It’s a modern private eye novel, where ex-SIB investigator Cormoran Strike and his temp assistant Robin Ellacott look into the suspicious death of a tabloid-favourite model. I won’t give anything away (nor will I share any deep reflections on the next two books in the series, The Silkworm and Career of Evil, though I quickly downloaded and ran to those as well), but I will say the following: I love that Strike is better at his job than I am.

Part of the fun of a mystery is trying to get to the “whodunnit” before the characters do, but there’s also something deeply dissatisfying about anticipating the big reveal/twist. It’s irritating to get to the end already knowing who the killer is, or that a dead character is really alive, or that it was a memory all along, or whatever. Most of the time, Strike made connections more quickly than I could make predictions, and even when I figured out one element, the mysteries were layered enough (or convoluted enough in some cases) that not all was spoiled. Yay!

Another thing to enjoy about these novels is the relationship development between the characters. If we must give Rowling only one compliment, it’s that she’s great at writing characters who feel familiar. They are human, and we care about them.

 

— To be continued again —

Exploring audio books on foot: part one

I originally decided to try out audio books for running and road trips. With the latter, I found even the most compelling story made me sleepy. When driving from Calgary to Winnipeg in one go (1325 km or about 13 hours with food breaks), I need peppy, bouncy, soulless pop music from the 90’s and 00’s to keep me alert and able. Slight clarification: it’s a completely different experience if me or my road trip mate are reading aloud. Perhaps I’m just wired to pay more attention to someone I can see. Anyhow…

runner with headphonesListening to an audio book while running took some experimentation. I began by downloading books I thought would be inspiring (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall), energizing (Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing), diverting (Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling), and comforting (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen). Some of these were favourites and some of these were new, but with every attempt I came closer to finding the type of book I knew would be effective in keeping me going over the building mileage in my marathon training.

Obviously Born to Run was going to be a good one. I’d read the paper version twice, but I think I enjoyed the story in my ear even more as I ran the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood, pushing beyond my easy pace and playing with my running form as Fred Sanders (the narrator) explained how my body was made for this motion. Unfortunately, I can’t just listen to that book again and again. It’s only 11 hours… which sounds like a lot but isn’t when you’re averaging 25-30 miles a week. I’ve since downloaded Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running but haven’t taken it out on the roads or trails yet. I feel like it’s going to be atmospheric, and I think I’m waiting for the winter to experience Murakami’s phrasing in my mind.

Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me, even shorter at a paltry 5 hours, was a joy. I’ve come to think all memoirs/autobiographies/essays by comedians should be experienced as audio books. I’m sure it’s funny on paper, but funnier when Mindy Kaling is telling you her stories with her own timing, cadence, and inflections. The same goes for Amy Poehler’s Yes Please!, which has the added secret value of guest narrators like Patrick Stewart and Seth Meyers and moments of laughter and improvisation that you won’t find in the bound version. This category of badass-successful-feminist-female comedians definitely works for me. I get to feel powerful and feminine, entertained and empowered, and it’s the right amount of diversion and lightness for 3-6 mile recovery runs. Right now, Caitlin Moran is making me laugh and wince as she develops her first adult feelings about – of all people – Chevy Chase, and tries to find the right names for her “bathing suit areas” in How To Be A Woman. Her stories are embarrassing, not for their content, but for their familiarity.

I’m also trying to enjoy Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, but aside from the interest I have in the actual journey, and the appreciation I have of her story-worthy, atypical life, I don’t like her. I wish she’d hurry up and get her shit together. It’s not entertaining to me to listen to her cheat on her husband and do a lot of heroin. It’s physically painful to me to imagine not thinking about the weight of a hiking pack… or attempting to pack it… prior to embarking on this massive expedition. She’s an incomprehensible mix of determination and complete lack of foresight. But I think I could get over that if they’d chosen a different narrator. I’m sorry Bernadette Dunne. You are totally great at your job. I have no problem with you or your style at all. BUT you sound like you’re in your 50s, and Cheryl at the time of this journey was in her 20s. It’s distracting.

— To be continued —