Shit That Scares Me

One Man's Quest to Face Down His Goddamned Anxiety

And So, in Conclusion…

I want to kick this post off, my last, by thanking each and every one of you for your incredible support. Yes, you, I’m talking to you. As I said at the beginning of this (basically insane) project, part of the reason I chose to blog about it was because even if I failed at something, I’d still have you to come crying to with a good story. I hope I held up my end of the bargain. I know you did.

It’s been a helluva ride. I pushed myself way further than I thought I could. I won some, I lost some, but overall, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I ran a freaking marathon. I did improv. In New York. Where, you know, they take you out and beat the shit out of you if you suck. I did a triathlon, and I’m doing more this year. I traveled abroad by myself, and in so doing had one of the greatest experiences of my life. I went skiing, and I endured a Zen retreat. Check, check, and check.

Did I get to everything on the list? Nope. Ultimately, I think I got to a little over fifty percent, after I factor in a few things: I didn’t get around to doing standup, but, as Lori reminds me, I’ve done it before, very briefly, when hosting a rather small comedy show in front of a crowd of mostly friends a few years back. Not the same as starting from scratch and going out in front of a room full of hostile, drunk strangers, but in any case, I’ll give myself a C and call it done.

I did do an intensive couple of months of French language tutoring, and while I’m not fluent, I’m certainly capable of carrying on a conversation, provided it doesn’t involve too much metaphor or future-perfect-tense usage. Grade: B. I’ll be continuing this one. In fact, it’s my dream to some day go live in France for a time and study French cooking. Ooh la la!

And “Ulysses.” Boy, oh boy. I’m about a hundred pages from the end. Probably I’ll finish it in the next couple weeks. I won’t blog about it when I do, because what am I going to do, give you a book report? Suffice it to say that I get what all the hoopla is about—it’s a monster. It’s compelling, confounding, and a lot of other words. Lots and lots of words. Strung together in ways that are alternately dazzling, inscrutable, and frustrating. But worth it. Grade: Incomplete.

As for the rest of it? Well, my plan was to go out with a bang and finally do the skydive. I scheduled it and was all set to go, again psyching myself up mentally to override every instinct in my body in preparation for jumping out of a perfectly good plane, and then Lori stepped in and put the kibosh on it. In her words, she invoked the “dead mom” clause. She said, basically, that because she lost her mom in 2003 and it was, understandably, the single most painful experience of her life, she wasn’t willing to risk going through losing someone again simply because that someone wanted to electively do something really insane like jumping out of a plane in order to complete an arbitrary list of dares he made for himself on the internet. Fair enough.

And, ultimately, I think I’ve faced down plenty of things that were previously frightening enough to see that I have power where I didn’t think I did. To be honest, you guys, I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to make it through losing our dog. I know it sounds silly, but that dog was indescribably special to me. He was my constant companion, my little clown, my protector, my ward. I couldn’t see going a single day without him in this world. But we had to say goodbye, and I found a way to get through it.

We all have power where we fear we don’t. That’s what I’ve learned here. Fear, for want of a better word, is a motherf*cker. Those of you who struggle with it know that it can paralyze. It can collapse your whole world, can make it so small that it caves in on itself, until eventually, you’re living no life at all. So you fight back. You fight back with everything you’ve got. It’s an ongoing process. I feel fear, sometimes great fear, every time I step in front of a microphone to do my job (as a voiceover actor, my profession—did I mention?). And chances are, I’ll continue to feel fear, constant fear, in one degree or other, for the rest of my life.

But I didn’t embark on this journey thinking I could change that; I knew instinctively that I couldn’t. That for better or for worse, fear is my passenger. But by undertaking these series of dares and activities, I’ve done something almost as good. I’ve grown larger than my fear. I’ve taught it to sit quietly and observe while I go and do whatever the hell I please. Yes, this blog began as something of a goof, but in the end, it’s produced something profound: to face one’s fears is to be alive.

And so, this may be the finale for this little project, but it’s certainly not the end, not by a long shot. Because it’s not about ticking items off a list. There’s always gonna be shit that scares me. And I’m going to do it all anyway.

Love and gratitude to each of you, and Happy New Year to you and yours!

–Stephan

Failure… and Redemption!

Okay, here’s the deal. I didn’t run the Portland marathon last Sunday as scheduled. Some stuff happened and I didn’t do it. I was initially pretty bummed about this, and I debated about whether or not to write a blog post about it, but ultimately I decided to go ahead and do it because the story involves overcoming some pretty nasty fears, and isn’t that what you’ve signed on to read about? (if not, please to scroll up and refer to the title of the blog).

Anyway, it went down kind of like this. I did the New York Triathlon in July, after which I felt totally bullet-proof and awesome. I did a triathlon, yo! Clearly, now would be the ideal time to jump into marathon training, say, four weeks in to the marathon training already in schedule. Well, it didn’t happen like that, but basically it did. Initially, I was going to do the Providence, RI, marathon, which is in mid-October, and this would have given me enough time to recover from the triathlon and start marathon training (Side note: triathlons and marathons each require a long lag-time for training, usually about four months.) Then, due to some scheduling issues, I wasn’t going to be able to do the Providence marathon, so I started looking for another one. The one I really wanted to do (and still very much want to do) is the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. This is where you run the race alongside marines in full 50 pound gear or whatever, who are cheering YOU on. Because you’re only, you know, in shorts and running shoes, and the marines are in full f*cking gear and broiling uniforms besides, running alongside YOU, encouraging you. Eh. Now that I’ve written it out, it seems like less fun.

Anyway, I did initially want to do that marathon, but it was full. I also wanted to do the Chicago marathon, but it, too, was full. So I found the Portland Maine Marathon, and it looked great. The only downside was that it was pretty close, time-wise, to the triathlon. I would have to overlap my training.

And overlap I did. Not only did I overlap, but, because I felt like a bullet-proof superhero coming off my first triathlon, I idiotically chose a training program designed to get you to run a PERSONAL BEST for your marathon. The schedule was, to put it mildly, intense. Not only did they have you running more than I did for my first marathon, it was a LOT more. It included not one, not two, but three 20-mile runs. Actually, the last one was be a 22-mile run. But, like I say, being all high and sh*t off my triathlon, I thought, no problem.

Turns out, it was a problem. Not only did I not pay strict attention to the subtleties of the training program, which stipulated that you run the 20-mile routes at sub-race pace (I didn’t), but they also stressed that the other runs you did during the week were also supposed to be slower, with just intervals of sprinting and going all out and whatnot. Which I also ignored.

In case this is getting technical and boring, let’s just say you want to get strong enough to lift 100 pounds. But instead of starting with smaller weights and working your way up, you just go yanking at the 100-pound weight, thinking eventually, hey, if I pull hard enough, I’ll pick it up, but instead you just wind up pulling your shoulders out of their sockets.

Okay, it’s not quite like that, but you get the idea. Anyway, during the training process, I felt myself getting weaker and weaker. My magnificent training partner of a wife, Lori Culwell, had been following me on a bike with a backpack full of Gatorade and power gels while I did my long runs, because she is incredibly awesome. But even she noticed I was getting slower and slower. I tried to chalk it up to my bad head. I actually had a couple of pretty nasty panic attacks while I was out running, but I had managed to finish the run each time.

I guess I felt like if I could just face my fear and push through, I’d be okay. And, drum roll please, I was super, incredibly wrong. So picture this: It’s the day of my 22-mile training run. It’s been threatening rain all day and it’s humid as hell, but we decide to go ahead and go for it. Now, the route that I’d been training on is this incredibly beautiful paved trail that runs through Putnam and Westchester counties. I would go down half the distance, and then turn around and come back. Which is fine when you’re doing ten miles—five down, five back. But on the 22-mile run, you’re going out eleven and… you get the idea. Anyway, we head out, me running ahead with my trusty pack mule behind me, and I’m not feeling good. I can’t get out of my head, I’m fighting panic the whole way. But I get down to mile eleven and turn around, and then, about two hundred yards in, my legs say: No. No, Stephan Cox, we will not run anymore. We are tired and you are an idiot and we have been trying to send you a message and you have not received it.

And then, it started to rain.

We are eleven miles out, and it starts to rain. And I’m not talking a jolly, Gene-Kelly-dance-number-style rain (kids, ask your parents); I’m talking the-sky-opening-up, Old-Testament-style, God-smiting-the-Pharisees-type rain. It just dumped. And because there was nowhere to go, we walked. And walked. And walked. We walked the eleven miles back to the car. And Lori, God bless her, laughed the whole way. And eventually, I laughed, too.

Because what I realized was, it wasn’t my panic problem getting in the way; it was my hubris. I thought I could do something that my body wasn’t designed to do, certainly not at this age. And those eleven miles gave me a good three hours to come to terms with that.

Anyway, I took a week off from running. I was honestly scared that I was never going to be able to run again, that I had ruined it for myself. But I didn’t. In fact, on the day of the marathon, I went back to the running trail, Lori bringing up the rear on the bike, and I ran the best half-marathon of my life. No joke. I had a personal best. It felt great. It felt… like redemption.

 

Where the Hell Have I Been?

Hello, STSM gang! Before I started this post, I just went and glanced back over some previous posts, and I noticed that I’ve started by recent blogs by tacitly apologizing for how long it’s been since I last posted. You know what? Screw it. What am I, P-Diddy with a Twitter account? Who cares? Let’s just jump in.

First off, I had planned to take on the granddaddy of my STSM challenges, skydiving, during my birthday weekend back in August. I really tried. My dad and I had it all planned out: We picked our day, signed up, and were all ready to go that morning, but when we got to the place, it was totally fogged in. Well, not totally, but the people who run the skydiving place said they won’t do any jumps if there’s even a single cloud in the sky, which makes good sense, I suppose. And besides, what the hell was I going to do? Argue? “Dammit, I’ve paid my money! Now take me up in your almost comically tiny plane and endanger my life! Right now!”

They told us we could wait around until it cleared, but, having grown up in the Monterey Bay area, I knew that August fog doesn’t burn off. It just hangs there. In fact, I now wonder if maybe I subconsciously planned my jump for August knowing this very fact. Anyway, we decided to come back the next day, which, also was totally socked in. So it was a bust. But what I can tell you is this: it’s really freaking hard to gear yourself up mentally to override every single instinct in your body in order to jump out of a plane. Particularly when you’re prone to anxiety like I am. And then, to have to do that two days in a row, well… let’s just say I wish I could have done it and gotten it off the list. My dad and I have rescheduled the whole thing for December, which, ironically, tends to be pretty fog-free. Naturally, I’ll keep you posted.

What else? Well, in sadder news, Lori and I learned that our beloved 11 year-old dog, Baxter, has cancer. Three weeks ago, he basically collapsed, so we immediately took him to the vet ER and left him for observation overnight, which turned out to be a good move, because in the morning, he had a seizure was immediately rushed into surgery. They removed his spleen and discovered that he has an aggressive cancer called hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood vessels. The prognosis is not good: three to six months.

While this was pretty devastating news to Lori and me, it did put things into pretty stark perspective. One of the many side effects of having an anxious personality is that you tend to be hyper-ambitious. And one of the side effects of hyper-ambition is that you live your life in an idealized future state, one in which you have achieved all of your goals and you can finally allow yourself to relax and be happy. But when everything went down with Baxter, all that stuff went away. We were forced to focus on what was happening moment to moment, because, in a very real sense, we couldn’t see the future. In fact, we weren’t initially sure if he was going to make it through surgery.

Now that he has, and he’s home, it’s like a bonus round. For Baxter, it’s basically the greatest time of his life. Not that his life sucked before, because it in no way did, but now? He gets absolutely everything he wants. What’s that, Baxter? You say you love tuna and sardines mashed up in a bowl? Well, guess what, pal? You’re getting that FOR EVERY MEAL, as much as you want. And all the arthritis pain meds that we’d been holding back on because it’s hard on your liver? Down the hatch, big fella! Plus we finally broke down and got him some tranquilizers for all those frequent East Coast thunderstorms. Essentially, our dog now lives on a cloud made of medicine and fish.

And for Lori and me, it’s been a chance to just be present with the dog, and with our own lives. We know, in a very real sense, that he could go at any time, so we’re trying not to get caught up in all the meaningless stuff we fill our days with. Sure, I’m still working on all of my many projects: I just released a book, I’ve got an animated series that’s starting to take shape, on and on. But I find that I’m taking that stuff less seriously. And that’s good.

As far as the other challenges on my STSM list go, I’m getting to them. I’m still three-quarters of the way through “Ulysses”—turns out I was reading a lot of it on the stationary bike while I was triathlon training, and now I’ve been training up for the Portland, ME, marathon that’s coming up in a couple weeks, and it’s hard (as in impossible) to read and run. Probably I missed my window to surf and water ski, what with the summer coming to a close. I guess I’m realizing now that I won’t be completing my list by the end of the year, and that’s fine. I’ll get to them. But for right now, it’s September, the leaves are staring to change, and I think I’m going to take my dog for a walk.

Tri and Stop Me

Hey, STSM gang! Allow me to begin this blog post by apologizing for the long hiatus. I’ve been working on a bunch of stuff that I’ll let you all know about as soon as it’s live, and I’ve also been busy training for what is the reason for this post, the 2012 New York Triathlon.

Turns out training for a triathlon is a seriously time-consuming endeavor, one that, for me anyway, meant keeping up with a schedule of about 10-15 hours a week. I’m not going to lie—it was intense. Because you’re training for three events (four, if you count the transitioning part, which most triathletes do), you’re doing tons of running, more biking than I’ve ever done in my life, and at least two full hours of swimming each week. Some days, like on Wednesdays, I did all three: a 15 mile bike ride, followed by a 5K (3.1 miles) of interval wind-sprints, then, in the evening, an hour of intensive swim training during which we’d do 3000 meters. After which I would go home and cry a tiny puddle of soreness.

All of this resulted in my dropping a pant-size. Which is all well and good, but if you ask me if I recommend triathlon training as a weight-loss program, I’d have to say: Only if you don’t mind feeling like you have a second job. It’s just a lot. Lori has a friend who is doing the Iron Man Triathlon in August, and I can’t even imagine the schedule he’s keeping up with. But if you manage to keep up with all of it (which I did for the most part), you do feel pretty bad-ass.

This is not to say I wasn’t nervous about the race itself. Hell, the whole point of doing this thing was to face my fear of open-water swimming. Ironically, the open-water swimming turned out to be the least of my concerns. I did the practice open-water swim with my training group a month before the race and got to find out first-hand just how buoyant triathlon wetsuits are. Also, I found out that the New York Triathlon is timed to coincide with the current of the Hudson, which is really swift. So much so that the course record is, like, nine minutes. So even if I totally cramped up out there and couldn’t swim another stroke, I could just float my way down to the pier like a discarded syringe (hey, it’s the Hudson River).

No, the thing that actually had me worried was the heat. I’d watched the forecast carefully the week before race day, and it was predicted to be in the high-90s. I’ve exercised in intense heat a few times before, and it’s never gone well. I sweat a lot. I mean, a lot. So much so that it’s hard to keep enough fluids in me on a mild day. And I really didn’t do a lot of training in the heat, even though I should have.

Also, I was worried about remembering everything. Did you know you have to be a member of MENSA to run a triathlon? I sure didn’t. In addition to the physical aspect, triathlons also require you to remember a TON of shit. Seriously. To give you an idea, here’s the checklist they include with your packet when you register.

You’ll notice I opted to go without my sports bra.

On the evening before the race, I made extensive preparations. In an effort to not let anything slip through the cracks, I did something really dorky: I made hand-written notes. In addition to laying all my stuff out the night before like a little, flat triathlon man, I wrote out three notes to help me remember everything at each transition. They looked like this:

Yes, I have the handwriting of a first-grader. Deal with it.

Then I took my bike and helmet over to the transition area, had my giant bowl of pasta, and went home to sit around and get nervous and try to sleep. Now, if you’ll recall from my post about doing the New York Marathon, I don’t sleep well the night before big events. I go through the motions, but I never really nod off completely. This time around, knowing that I’d have to get up at 3:30 AM, I pretty much gave up on the idea of sleep altogether. I mean, sure, I went through the charade of getting into bed at 9 PM, turning off the lights and shutting my eyes like a good boy, but I didn’t expect much. Mostly I kept bolting up, sure that I’d overslept, or that I was going to forget something really basic, like my shoes. Then I’d be forced to run the whole race barefoot, because I’m incredibly stubborn. And then I’d be hobbled for life and have to wear special shoes and be an outcast from society. Welcome to my brain.

Anyway, after about two cumulative hours of “sleep,” I hopped up, threw on my gear, and caught a cab to the race site. And did you know that 3:30 AM on a Sunday morning in New York is actually still Saturday night for most people? I saw wobbling, unsteady couples trying to hail a cab, and I tried to guess which one would regret waking up next to the other one in the morning. I also noticed, with the window down, that even at 3:30, it was still really warm and humid out. So warm and humid that, after the cab dropped me off and I was walking through Riverside Park to the transition area, I was sure I could hear those screeching, rain forest bugs that you only hear in the background of Vietnam movies. More nerves.

After I set up all my stuff to the best of my ability, the next hour was devoted to making the one-mile walk to the pier, trying not to get dysentery from using the port-o-potties barefoot, and then putting on my wetsuit. There’s an art to putting on the wetsuit. Some people put on the bottoms first and then walk around with the tops dangling around their waists like some human-arachnid mutant. It’s a timing thing, they say. You don’t want to put the wetsuit on too soon, since you’ll just stand around sweating, and you certainly don’t want to put it on too late, or you’ll miss your start.

But before I knew it, I was somehow in my wetsuit and walking up the pier to start the race. The sun was just peeking up over the horizon, the sky was this incredible, vivid pink, and as I looked out over the Hudson River, all I could think was, “This is the last thing mob informants see before some guy in a track suit pops a cap in their head.” Again, welcome to my brain.

Funny side story about swimming in the Hudson: Recently, Lori got a scrape that required her to get a tetanus shot, and so I thought I’d check in with my doctor to see if I was due for one, too. On my visit, my doctor tells me you only need to have a tetanus shot every ten years, and that I wasn’t officially due for another two years. Technically, you can get one after five years if you’re doing something risky like traveling to a third world country, but it’s not mandatory. Anyway, we chit-chatted for a while about this and that, and then, as I was going to leave, I happened to mention, “Oh, hey, by the way, I’m doing the New York Triathlon.”

My doctor asked, “Don’t they make you swim in the Hudson for that?”

To which I responded, “Yes.”

“Let’s go ahead and give you that tetanus shot. And let’s throw in hepatitis A.”

Another funny side story: as I’m writing this, my friend Katherine just posted a link on my Facebook timeline about a woman doing the swim portion of her triathlon somewhere and getting attacked and bitten 25 times by an otter(!). And then having to get a bunch of shots, for, like, tetanus and rabies. I suppose I should count myself lucky. Who knew those cute little bastards were so bitey?

Enough digression—back to the race. So, as predicted, because of the strong current, the swim part of the race was really fast. I was then on to the first transition, which required you to run, barefoot, about 600 yards to the transition area. I guess I should have practiced for that, run around in my bare feet, try to rough ‘em up a bit, that sort of thing. But no one else was going much faster than I was.

What they were doing once we got to the transition area, I felt vindicated to find, is reading their hand-written notes on what to remember! Who’s the retard now? That’s right. Turns out I was just ahead of the curve, babies. So, after a rather slow transition (over 12 minutes = P.U.), it was on to the biking.

When you attend the mandatory orientation for the triathlon the day before the race, they really, really stress all the rules about the biking portion. You will ride single-file! You will pass in five seconds or less! You will not draft! You will not ride in the left lane! Nein! Verboten! Any failure to comply will result in a DQ (disqualification). But guess what? It was f*cking mayhem out there. Everyone passing everyone, no one paying any attention to anything, drifting and drafting all over the place. And everyone shouting, “Left! On your left!” like they’ve got freaking Tourrettes. Oh, also, I found out that riding a hybrid bike (i.e., half-road bike/half-mountain bike) for your triathlon ride is simply. Not. Done. I had people cheering me on ironically from the sidelines: “Go, hybrid guy!” But guess what, haters? I was passing people on their schmancy $10,000 road bikes left and right.

And I knew their age when I did it. Wanna know why? Because in addition to making you wear stick-on tattoos of your race number on your biceps, they also make you write your age in Magic Marker on the back of your left calf. I don’t know why they do this. Maybe it’s so when you pass out from heat stroke, they know how much effort to give when they try to revive you. “Oh, he’s 43? Screw him, there’s a 22-year old with so much more life ahead of her. Let’s focus our efforts on her.”

Much like the swimming, the bike portion flew by, and then it was off on the run. And even though the photo I took making the horns of Satan makes me look like I’m full of pep and vigor and energy, that was just for the camera. The run portion really takes it all out of you. And it’s in Central Park, which despite appearances, is quite hilly in sections. It hurts. I’m serious. Part of the reason why is because you’ve just gotten off a bike, and you’re used to a certain amount of exertion yielding a particular speedy result. It feels like you’re running in Jell-o. And even though we started the triathlon at 6 AM, it was finally starting to get hot. So, similar to the last 5K of the marathon, everything slowed down once I got to the run. I’m curious to know if this is the place in which other triathletes get mad at themselves for signing up for this shit, because it sure was for me.

Nonetheless, due to my aforementioned stubbornness, I powered through and finished in what I thought was pretty decent time, 3:07:49. And, of course, as with the marathon, I find that I’m now hooked and can’t wait until my next triathlon. I went ahead and bought the wetsuit I rented, and have put a decent road bike on my wish list for Santa. First, though, this fall, I’m going to be running the Portland (ME) Marathon. Yes, I’m starting my marathon training a week after I’ve finished my triathlon. Because I’m an idiot. It’s going to be zoppity, though, because Lori, along with Ken, my father-in-law, are going to be doing the half-marathon together! It’s a family affair!

So, I did it. I finished the triathlon and lived to tell the tale. I know I’m starting to come off like a soft grader on this blog, but I’m going to give myself an ‘A.’ Don’t worry, though. I still have other stuff ahead. I’m two-thirds of the way of crawling my way through “Ulysses,” (I keep starting other books) and I’m scheduling my sky-dive for my birthday in August. My dad, the amazing Jim Cox, will be jumping with me, if you can believe it! For that challenge, though, I’m setting the bar incredibly low: I simply have to not soil myself in order to get an ‘A.’ We’ll see how that goes.

I Went to Scandinavia All By Myself Like a Big Boy

Sitting in the Stockholm airport waiting to board my flight back to the US seems like as good a place as any to start my blog post about my first solo international trip. I likely won’t finish it here, nor will I finish it on the plane; I didn’t sleep well last night, mostly because I kept waking up in one-hour intervals, convinced I had overslept and missed my cab ride to the airport, even though I had set the alarm on both my iPhone and the clock radio, and had also phoned down for a wakeup call. This clearly a pattern with me—see my depiction of my night’s “sleep” before the marathon. In any event, I plan to be sawing serious logs once I’m on the plane.

Now, I’ve noticed an inverse relationship between how smoothly a Shit That Scares Me challenge goes and the funniness of the blog post that results from it. In other words, difficulties make for better comic fodder. That’s main reason why I decided to blog about this in the first place: if things go all pear-shaped during a challenge, at least I’ll have something funny to write about (see my Zen retreat). It is therefore with mixed emotion that I predict this will be one of my least funny blog posts. Because of all of the challenges I’ve attempted and completed, this has been by far the most revelatory, and certainly the most unreservedly enjoyable.

Traveling is fun; it’s why we do it. I’ve traveled a fair amount, and I’ve always had a great time. But I’ve always done it with at least one other person, someone with whom I can reflect or share a laugh about a particular incident, and so forth. Part of my fear of traveling alone was that I would miss having that someone with whom I could process the experience.

The thing is, once you acknowledge the fact that it’s just you, you get into a different mindset. You recognize that whatever memories you’ll be creating will be yours and yours alone, and you therefore become much more present. It’s a good thing, especially for someone like me whose mind tends to be all over the place. When you’re by yourself, bearing witness to a glorious sunset over a medieval city, or watching a procession of the Swedish Royal Guard ride by on horseback in formation through the center of town, you take it in more readily, because you realize it’s up to you, and only you, to do so. It’s hard to explain, but it’s very much true.

On a more selfish level, traveling alone is great because you call the shots. I’m an only child, so this part of the experience was a natural fit. I set my own itinerary, got up and went to bed when I wanted to, ate what and where I wanted to. I could go where I chose, and when I got tired of that, I could go someplace else. It reminded me all over again why I’m so incredibly glad to be a grownup. Not that I didn’t have a nice childhood, mind you, but the whole time I was growing up, I just couldn’t wait to get it the hell over with and be an adult so I could do whatever I wanted.

Speaking of being an adult, traveling as a grownup is a very different experience than traveling when you’re younger. I did regret at the time that I didn’t have the money to go backpacking across Europe when I graduated college, and I’m sure that would have been fun and life-changing, but the amount of freedom, not to mention security, you feel as a 43-year old man with a life and resources and a wallet full of credit cards, well, you can’t beat it with a stick. Not that sleeping in a sketchy hostel on the outskirts of town with a bunch of other noisy, stinky 20-somethings doesn’t completely rule. I’m sure that it does.

Now, on a practical level, I discovered that you really can’t do better Scandinavia for a first solo outing. First off, everyone, and I mean everyone, speaks English, and speaks it well. I learned how to ask, in both Norwegian and Swedish, if someone spoke English, but after awhile, I stopped asking. I think the reason everyone speaks it is because there’s a lot of interaction between the four Scandinavian countries (not to mention with the rest of Europe), and the one language they all learn and know in common is English. Additionally, the people I met were really helpful and cheerful. I read recently that both Norway and Sweden have a high happiness index among their citizens. I almost never saw anyone look unhappy or raise their voice in anger or be rude. Plus, Oh My God, are these people beautiful. Not all of them, mind you, but a high enough percentage that it’s kind of intimidating. And they bike and run everywhere, so they’re fit. And stylish. I know I’m talking about the cities here, so who knows if this holds true in the hinterlands, but the vast majority of people I met were nice, attractive, smart, fit, and happy. So say what you will about Socialism (or, actually, don’t), but something’s working for these people.

Did I get lonely? Not per se. I certainly missed my wife, but I always do when we’re apart, so that was to be expected. I met a number of very lovely people when I was out and about and had my conversation fix when I needed it, and afterwards they went their way and I went mine, just as the good lord intended. But the biggest factor in staving off loneliness was technology. I was always connected. Here’s where I give an enormous shout-out to my amazing wife for doing all of the hours of waiting on hold it took to get my phone set up for international service—man, was that amazing. I was able to text, check email, do all the stuff I do with my phone at home. Plus, I had free wifi in each of my hotel rooms, so Lori and I could Skype every night. I also could also check my Facebook, watch the Daily Show, listen to WNYC. And, because I brought my studio with me, I also did my regular voiceover auditions. Basically, when the door was closed on my hotel room at night, it didn’t feel all that different from my loft in New York.

I certainly won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow of my trip or post a bunch of photos, but let me sum up by saying that both Oslo and Stockholm are two of the most beautiful, charming, culturally rich cities I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. I recommend them both highly. Oh, and the reason I went in the first place—the art show. It was lovely. This group of graduate student and professional artists had curated a show about creativity during the process of waiting. Therefore, everybody there had actually intended to create something that would wind up on the walls of a gallery. Except me. I confess felt a little silly, with my little goofy video, but nevertheless, it was received well. And there was free beer. So it was a win-win.

Summing up, traveling alone is an enormously enriching and empowering experience that I hope everyone gets to have. I know I’ll be doing it again. And again. I can’t wait. Seems a little arbitrary to give myself a grade on something that was so unequivocally positive and enjoyable, but here goes. Solo travel: A.

Pining for the Fjords

Owing an odd confluence of circumstances, I will be leaving for a week-long solo trip to Scandinavia tomorrow evening. I’m incredibly excited, and, yes, a little nervous. For those of you keeping score at home, traveling abroad alone is on my list of Shit That Scares Me, so expect a blog post with a full report in about a week or so.

The story is this: About a month-and-a-half ago, I attempted to get tickets to go see Kraftwerk play at the Museum of Modern Art. I’d always wanted to see them live, and they were scheduled to do an eight-night stand at MOMA, performing one of their albums in its entirety each night. The tickets were only available online at a specified time, so when that time came around, I logged onto their site and attempted to buy tickets. I selected the night I wanted and waited. And waited. And waited. One of those spinning icons alerted me that I was waiting in the queue to purchase tickets, to not refresh my screen, and to continue to wait.

After about a half-an-hour of looking at the same spinning icon, I decided to compare notes with friends over Facebook who I knew were also trying to get tickets, and it turns out they was having the same experience. It seems that not only did thousands of people want to see these shows, but that, more perniciously, scalper-bots were likely scooping up all the tickets. Bastards.

Then Lori, who was also trying to get tickets, called and we talked about how utterly ridiculous the situation was. We started singing phrases on the web page with German accents. She encouraged me to write and record a catchy little jingle to capture my experience. I did, and I guess it hit a nerve, because it went kinda-sorta viral, and people left many nice and funny comments about it. End of story, I thought.

Then, last week, I got an email from a curator in Oslo, Norway, telling me that he’d curated an art exhibit about waiting creatively, and that he would like to use my video. In an art exhibition. In Norway.

Needless to say, I say yes. A week later, I’m going to Norway. Since it’s a long shlep (eight hours and change), I will be also going to Stockholm, another city I’ve always wanted to see. It’s all been a crazy whirlwind, but then, that’s the sort of thing that belongs on a Shit That Scares Me blog, right?

Quick update on other stuff: The triathlon training continues apace. This last weekend, I did my first 25 mile bike ride, with the help of my incredible wife, who followed me and took notes, just like she did with the marathon training. She totally, totally rules. Oh, and as I’ve mentioned here before, I’m raising money for an incredibly worthwhile cause, so if you haven’t donated yet, please consider doing so.

I am about halfway through “Ulysses” (I keep pausing to read other books), I’ve been working with my French tutor every week (with flashes of fluency), and now, my father and I have decided that we’re going skydiving together on my birthday in August. So I’m going to jump out of a plane with my dad. How cool is that?

More to come in the weeks ahead. See you in the Fjords…

A Little Help from My Friends (NY Triathlon Fundraising)

Hey, gang:

As some of you already know, I’m going to be doing the New York Triathlon this year, and I’ll be raising money in support of the American Cancer Society. I’d love your support in any amount you can manage. Click here. And thanks!

–Stephan

Zen… Retreat! Retreat!

I got interested in Zen Buddhism the way most fellas do when they’re young and impressionable: through books. First it was Salinger’s Glass family and their professed love of the Diamond Sutra, and then, more significantly, it was Jack Kerouac and “The Dharma Bums,” along with assorted other rambling screeds. Kerouac made the whole Zen thing seem hip, which is odd, because Zen is not in any way hip. Or maybe it is. Who knows?

Anyway, about 20 years ago, I started studying Zen, taking up the sitting meditation and all that. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I sucked at it. Seriously. I have one of those brains that won’t shut up. Never. It’s like it’s stuck in freaking hyperdrive, and I’ve somehow learned to live with it. (I’m sure if I were a kid right now, I’d be diagnosed ADHD they’d be medicating me into next week.) As I’ve learned over the years, the whole point of meditation is to focus your mind and be present. Or that’s one of several points. Or it’s part of an integrated whole. Or… well, there aren’t really any straight answers in Zen.

Part of the reason I put a Zen retreat on the Shit That Scares Me list is because even after my 20 year, on-again-off-again, relationship with Zen (mostly off, if I’m honest), I still feel like I haven’t made any progress at all. And I thought that maybe if I attended an immersive program like a weekend Zen retreat, I’d finally have to force myself to quiet down and focus and be present. Not to get too heavy, but I tend to live my internal life in this idealized future state. And in that ideal future state, my life is exactly the way I want it and nothing bothers me and I can finally relax and my brain can shut the f**k up and I can have some peace. Therefore, I’m rarely ever mentally in the one place where life takes place, which is right now. Because of that, I’m afraid that one day I’m going to wake up and find that I’m officially old and have spent my entire life projecting into a future that didn’t happen instead of being present for what was actually occurring. Does that make sense? Probably not, but I’m going to press on anyway.

So off I went last Friday afternoon to the Zen Mountain Monastery, a four-story cabin nestled into the Catskills. It’s a beautiful, peaceful, idyllic setting, and knew when I arrived that if I was ever going to have any sort of breakthrough, this would be the place where it happens. So I check in, eat dinner in the main hall, meet some of my other retreaters (retreatants?), and then we all get a tour of the place. And as they take us around to where we’ll be sleeping, I realize my sleeping space is… a dorm room. With bunkbeds. Six bunkbeds, to be exact. Like we’re at some sort of Zen summer camp. But I try to be game, drop my stuff on a bed, and get ready for the first meditation session.

We all head upstairs to the zendo (the meditation hall) and listens to the head prelate, the sensei (everything in Zen has a Japanese name, which is a little precious and hard to take at first, but you get used to it), who instructs us on how to meditate. And here’s how it goes. You sit on the floor on a mat with a cushion on it called a zafu (more Japanese names) either cross-legged or kneeling with the cushion between your legs, and you straighten your posture. Then, with your eyes open and looking downward, you count your breaths. Inhale, one; exhale, two; inhale, three; exhale four, and so on until you get to ten. And then you start over. For a half an hour. Then you get up and do what’s called walking meditation, which is just what it sounds like. Then another half-hour of sitting.

There are other practices, like doing koans (‘What’s the sound of one hand clapping,’ etc.), but that’s basically the long and the short of it. Because I’d done it before, I knew what to expect going in, but what I had conveniently forgotten is that if you haven’t formally meditated in a while, which I hadn’t, sitting on that cushion in those postures hurts like hell. During the second session, I tried using one of those little benches that have for kneeling on (presumably for Zen wimps like me), but that hurt even more. It was an intermittent hour of agony, because once the meditation starts, you’re not supposed to move. Not a muscle. It’s simply not done. If you do move, to try to find a more comfortable sitting position, or scratch your nose or whatever, they yell at you. In a Zen kind of way.

After the meditation, everybody starts getting ready for bed, because it’s lights out at 9:30, and the people who run the place are going to wake you up at 4:20, so you can start meditating again at 5 AM.

Four-twenty. In the morning. Four-twenty may be a totally wicked awesome time in the afternoon, broheim, but as most of us know from experience, 4:20 is decidedly not awesome in the morning. But I knew this was the schedule going in, so I brushed my teeth, hopped up onto my bunk, and I prayed that, even though it was only 9:30, I’d somehow be the first to fall asleep because if I didn’t… sure enough, three of the five guys in my room started to snore. Loudly. I was wearing earplugs, but still it sounded like a sawmill in there. I pictured myself as a walking zombie, not only for the next day, but for the rest of the weekend, sleep-deprived and all crankypants. Then, in very un-Zen-like fashion, I started getting pissed. Really pissed. Pissed at the snoring guys, pissed that I paid good money to have to get up at 4:20 in the morning on a freaking Saturday. But mostly I was pissed at myself, for getting into this. After stewing for a while, I decided I was going to leave. Screw it, I thought. I made it here. I did two agonizing meditation sessions. I’ll write a blog telling everyone I failed, or I’ll give myself a D or whatever, and that will be that. So I packed up all my shit and headed outside where…

It was snowing. Hard. Like, harder than I’ve seen all season. Nonetheless, I made my way to the car and headed down the hill. I got about a mile and thought, You know what? This is stupid. First of all, the roads are covered in snow and ice. But more importantly, you committed yourself, you paid your money. So turn your Zen ass around and go back.

And I did. I turned around. I went back and parked in the lot and slept in the car. It was cold. Really freaking cold. I didn’t sleep all that well, but I got more sleep there than I would have if I had stayed in the room with the snoring crew.

The next morning’s meditation went a little better. First off, I saw some woman, wearing an actual official Zen robe and all, using a stool to meditate. A stool! So I grabbed one of those babies, and boy, was that a world of relief. No shame in my game, bitches. I just got bad knees from all that running, yo. Don’t mean I can’t get my proper meditation swerve on. Or something.

But I need to tell you something else about the morning meditation, and this was true for the remainder of the sessions: There were a shitload of distractions. First off, the sensei guy was not there with us in the hall, which apparently meant that he was back in one of the rooms reserved for interviews (I’m sure there’s another Japanese word for that, but it’s escaping me). The interviews, I later learned, are for students of the monastery, who were interspersed throughout the zendo, identified by their grey robes. The sensei apparently sits in the back room, and he rings this bell, which you can absolutely hear in the main hall where you’re trying to meditate, indicating he’s ready for an interview. Then one of the students goes noisily scurrying off to the room to meet with him. I couldn’t see them, because I was facing the wall, but every time the bell would go off, I’d hear this rustle of a scurrying robe, and then a rapid-fire pad-pad-padding off to the back room to talk about whatever you talk to the sensei about.

And then—and this is kind of awesome in a weird way—there was one of the caretakers (again, another Japanese word I can’t remember) who would wander the rows of the meditating people with a long stick called a (insert Japanese word here) and, get this: she would hit people with it. Like some sort of Zen beadle. You had to ask for it; they didn’t just go around whacking people at random. But you’d see her walking by in the shadow of the wall with this long stick, looking like, I don’t know, a sinister gondolier or something. And then what you’d do is bow to her to indicate you want the stick, she bows back to you, and then you expose one side of your shoulder flank, and she hits it with a WHACK! And then you expose the other side, and she hits that side with another WHACK!

It doesn’t really hurt. It stings for a second, but that’s about it. Apparently you do it because it’s supposed to trigger some meridian to enlightenment or some such, but I actually did it for two reasons: A) I had always wanted to try it ever since I learned about the practice years ago, to see if it triggered anything in me (it didn’t); and B) I don’t drink coffee, so at 5 in the morning, I needed something to keep me awake. I was hoping that a couple smacks with a stick would do the trick (it did).

But anyway, as I’m sitting there at five in the morning, meditating, focusing, trying to count my breaths, all I can hear is: Ring-ring-ring! Followed by: Scurry-scurry-scurry! And on top of that, the Zen beadle is wandering around hitting people with this giant stick: WHACK! WHACK! How the hell are you supposed to meditate through all this? The answer, of course, is that you’re supposed to be present with the whole thing. Which, yeah, blah, blah, blah, I was as much as I could be. Let’s say this: it certainly wasn’t boring. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

From here, let me fast forward through the rest of the activities of the day. We had breakfast right after (and, as a side note, they only served vegan food the whole weekend, which completely agreed with me. Hmmm…), and then we did something called “work practice,” which was where you’re supposed to be completely present while you do some sort of work task maintaining the monastery (shoveling snow, chopping wood, cleaning, etc.), and while I appreciated the spirit of the exercise, I couldn’t escape the notion that they were essentially getting free labor from people who had already paid for the experience of being there, but whatever.

After that, we went through a series of seminars and meetings in which we again sat in a group and talked with the sensei (I’m sorry for continuing to use that word, but he actually was a very cool, unpretentious guy who I later ate lunch with, and who dropped some serious science on my unenlightened ass). Then we did some physical exercises very much like yoga. Then—and this was awesome—we tried our hand at Zen calligraphy. Or, if I’m honest, they gave us a bunch of paper and some ink and brushes and had us paint lines and impressions of sound, which was not as hippie-woo as you’d imagine (see the photo above). Then there was lunch, followed by more seminars about Zen liturgy (decidedly not interesting to a religion-averse type like me), then, a roundtable discussion about how to integrate Zen into your life.

Now, this part did interest me, given what I’ve already said about how I have a near-pathological aversion to living in the present. In a nutshell, they talked about integrating a sitting practice into your life, which, yeah, I’m going to go ahead and give that one more shot. But they also talked about how to bring Zen into your walking, breathing, every day life. Your work, your exercise, and, most saliently for me, your creative life. Essentially, while creating, you allow yourself to stay completely still and present, avoiding distractions like Facebook and email and Twitter and making phone calls and getting up every five minutes because did you notice that shelf is totally dusty and I should get a rag and just run it across that and a cup of tea would really help right now and I’ll sit back down and write after I vacuum because, man, does this place need it. No! You will stay present with your creative process and write because it is a practice. A Zen practice. You will be still. Or you will get the stick.

And then, on the second night of my three-day retreat, it was time for dinner. And here I will make a confession. Even though the retreat was supposed to last until Sunday at 12:30, and even though they ask you to commit to staying the whole time, and even though it was only Saturday night, I had already made up my mind that I was going to leave after the meditation session after dinner. What’re you gonna do? I had put in my time, I had gone through the bulk of the program, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to sleep in a freezing-ass car again. At 9:30 PM. When it’s “lights out.” Ugh. Just hearing that expression, as a full-grown adult, makes me want to throw a Zen tantrum. Just lie on the floor and kick and bang my fists and be, like, Screw you, Zen Dad! I’m staying up as late as I Zen want! With the lights on! I’m going to watch TV, too! Try and Zen stop me!

Clearly, I have some baggage.

Anyway, after a wonderful meditation session, during which I witnessed a beautiful ceremony with two new students taking their vows to study with the zendo (I know! Zendo, zendo, zendo! Sensei, sensei, sensei!), I just somehow knew my button had popped. I had gotten a lot from the experience—in fact, I’d gotten an incredible amount—but it was time to go. So I fudged some excuse about Lori sending me frantic texts, something about the dog, and then I excused myself and drove down the hill, feeling liberated, but more importantly, renewed.

See, as it turns out, I think the thing I needed to push my way through was not my fear but my willingness to just accept. To be engaged. Like right now. And right now. And now. I’m here, typing these words, completely here. Not drifting mentally to somewhere else. And you know what? It feels good.

Yes, yes, I know I didn’t complete the full assignment, and for that, I’m going to give myself a B. But this assignment was much harder than I thought it would be. It was a hard-earned B. But I’ll take it. Here and now.

First Time Skier (Long Time Listener)

 

What is it like, you may well ask, going skiing for the first time in your life at the ripe age of 43? I’m going to go ahead and assume that you, like most people, have skied in your life, and that you probably started at a young age. I’m honestly not sure why I never have. It just wasn’t something my family did, even though I grew up in California where, even though we lived on the coast where there’s no snow, EVERYBODY skied. If you live in Northern California, you go to Tahoe, and if you’re in Southern California, it’s Big Bear, and you take off school for a week and ski and then you come back to school with that reverse raccoon face sunburn from wearing sunglasses and no sunscreen, because no one wore sunscreen back then, and furthermore, we had metal jungle gyms underneath which was maybe an inch or so of dirt or sand but was more often just plain old concrete and not every damn kid was allergic to peanuts and even though we had video games we actually got out and played and got exercise and were not dangerously obese and oh my God I never thought I’d say this but what the hell is with kids today?

Anyway. I digress. Back to skiing. I was fortunate enough that, on the weekend I chose to go skiing for the first time ever, Lori’s cousin, Ian, happed to be in town. To call Ian an outdoorsy, adventure-type guy would be like calling the pope mildly Catholic. Not only does Ian not own a TV, I think he’s uncomfortable with the very notion of a roof. He and his wife travel the world kayaking, camping, hang-gliding, hiking, and yes, skiing. So Ian was there to help me (and Lori, who had also never been on skis before) get the hang of having two giant planks attached to your feet and falling, in a semi-controlled fashion, down a hill.

And fall, I did. Wow, did I fall. After renting and assembling all our gear, we started out on the bunny slope, which is meant to be a mild incline on which you’re supposed to be able to practice and get your footing. I did not find the incline all that mild, and additionally, the slope had four giant poles smack in the middle of it that someone had wrapped about a half-inch of bubble-wrap around, maybe as an afterthought. Not confidence inducing. I mean, you’re not going to get up enough speed to Sonny Bono yourself (too soon?), but it sure as hell would hurt, and why did they put the practice slope in the middle of these giant poles? This, of course, was all I could think about as I headed down the hill: avoid the poles. Since you, gentle reader, have skied before, you know this, but it’s not hard to get up some speed on skis. What’s hard, at first, anyway, is steering and stopping. Because I’m somewhat foolhardy, and, oh, I forgot to mention that I have cross country skied before, I thought the principles would be basically the same but Oh My God They Are Not.

“Lean on your downhill foot,” I would hear Ian shouting behind me and I went careening down the hill straight toward a pole. I would think about trying to lean on my downhill foot for about a second and when my brain couldn’t work that out, I hit the ice. And it pretty much was ice, as there’s been hardly any snow at all and what was there to ski on was man-made and compacted as hell and you could see brown patches of dirt through it. What I’m trying to say is, it’s not like wiping out in powder. That shit hurts.

 

Meanwhile, my wife, who, despite never having been on skis before, took to it like a fish to water because she used to ice skate as a kid. While I’m doing face plant after face plant, Lori is taking the slaloms already like she’s goddamn Lindsay Vonn. Additionally, there are kids, little kids, zooming past me, skiing backwards, executing jumps, aerials, the whole nine. After about an hour of this, I was ready to quit. I honestly was. I was, like, okay, I said I would ski, I have skied, it hasn’t gone that well, but I did it and I’m sore and I want to go home and get back to something that I do well so that I can feel less like a tool. And then… something clicked. Ian’s instruction about putting the weight on your downhill foot and lifting up your uphill foot started to make sense. I made it down to the bottom without wiping out. Then I did it again. And then again. And as Ian went off to hit the black diamond runs, Lori and I skied the bunny slope over and over, and over and over, I didn’t crash.

After a couple hours, we were getting tired and hungry, and decided to head in to the lodge and wait for Ian to finish. But somehow, on our way back to the lodge, we got in the wrong corral and wound up in the line for a ski lift. Up the mountain. To an actual ski run. Now, Lori and I have this philosophy called Hold at 18. This means that if you’re sitting on a decent hand of 18—it’s not 21, but it’s not a 15, either—you should probably just hold. Like how Michael Jackson should have held after that first nose job. Or even his eleventh. But he went too far and wound up looking like the Crypt Keeper and there you are. So I had gone three hours now without breaking anything, without running into one of those poles, etc. I could walk, I was un-concussed. Hold at 18. But that is not what Shit That Scares Me is about, now, is it? No. Shit That Scares Me is about facing your fears. So after some hemming and hawing about how we were hungry anyway and how the hell would we get down if we decided we didn’t want to ski down, we suddenly found ourselves, skis adangle beneath us, riding high above the ski resort up the mountain. It was exhilarating. Honestly. It felt… alive. Like I was really doing something I hadn’t even intended to do when we came. I was going to be perfectly content spending my day on the bunny slopes. The experience turned out to be even more exhilarating than it should have been, in fact, because, newbies that we were, we didn’t even know that you were supposed to pull the safety bar down over you, so we were riding along, on a bench fifty feet up, with nothing in front of us but mountain air.

We get to the top and to get off the chair and onto the snow without falling. A good sign. Then we found the green-dot (the easy course indicator) path, and without over-thinking it too much, we were off. And… I’m not going to say I’m Jean Claude Killy or anything (kids, ask your parents), but I somehow managed to schuss my way to the bottom of the mountain without wiping out once. I am extremely proud of this fact. (Lori didn’t wipe out either, but as I say, she proved to be something of a natural) It went so well, that we actually did it again (remembering this time to pull down the safety bar).

And—here’s the best part—it was fun. It was really fun. I had a great time. I get what the fuss is all about. And I’m going to do it again.

Now, for my grade. If I had quit after an hour on the bunny slope, I would have given myself a C+. Showed up, made the best of it, didn’t ace it, went home. If I had just spend the whole day on the bunny slope, I probably would have given myself a B+. I stuck it out, figured out how to actually ski a little, and lived to tell the tale. But since I not only went up on the ski lift to the top of the mountain and skied down, not once, but twice, without wiping out, and even had fun in the process… Well, I get an A+. I don’t give those out easily. I’m kind of a hard ass. But there it is. And even though she isn’t officially participating, I’m also giving Lori an A+. Hell, since we’re giving them out, Ian gets one as a teacher, too.

Oh, and quick update: I have now signed up for the New York Triathlon (which is in July), I am about a third into “Ulysses,” I have just about completed the structure for the novel and will begin writing in earnest in a couple days. I’m also meeting weekly with a really great French instructor, and will be doing a Zen retreat the first weekend in March.

See you on the slopes!

Happy 2012! (Now What?)

In years past, like many people on New Years Eve, I’ve made resolutions, things I’d like to accomplish, improve, cease doing, etc. But this year is different. Why? Because I have made the egregiously foolish mistake of declaring my list of resolutions online, in public, in front of God and everyone. My list of Shit That Scares Me. Now I’m committed. There’s no backing out. What the hell have I done?

And since I’ve only managed to knock just two of these babies off my list before the end of 2011, and since I’ve promised myself that I’ve going to complete every item before the end of 2012, I need to get my ass in gear. Therefore, here, for January anyway, is the game plan:

  1. Beginning on January 1st, I start my month without sugar and (oh my good lord) beer. Why am I not choosing to do this in February, a month that is shorter by three days? Because apparently I am a masochist.
  2. I’ve already begun the Rosetta Stone program for French, which my lovely wife got me for Christmas. And I’ll be signing up for a French conversation group when I get back to NYC, so I’d love any suggestions. It occurs to me that I’m not really going to know how and when I’ve completed my goal of language acquisition, but I’m planning on taking a solo trip to Montreal this year, and maybe if I can maintain an entire conversation with someone in French that doesn’t involve where the bathroom is, I’ll put it in the win column.
  3. I’m starting my novel in a couple days. And by starting, I mean I’m going to take a week or so to compile all of my notes over the last couple years. After that, I’ll jump into the writing in earnest. Truth be told, I’m giving myself a few days off from creativity, as I’ve just completed my 365-day creativity marathon, the Thing a Day Project.
  4. I’m cracking open “Ulysses” tomorrow. It’s good timing, because I just finished another doorstop of a book, “1Q84” by Haruki Murakmi. (And how did I like said book? Please see Janet Maslin’s review, which pretty much sums up my feelings verbatim)

Okay, that’s four. That should keep me busy for January, at least. Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to a fearless 2012!

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