Surf’s Up: Part 3

I went to Puerto Rico for New Year’s this year.  I had never been before, and it was burning a hole in my bucket list.  I was dying to get there.

When we decided to go, one of the women I was going with told me about Rincon, the surf town in the northwest of the island.  I immediately signed up for surf lessons.

It has been years since I last surfed, but I was focused on getting back on a board.

PR Surfing

It was a lot harder then I remembered.  The paddling turned my arms into spaghetti.  The rocks under the water make my legs look like purple eggplants.  The surf rash turned my belly into hamburger.  (I must be hungry as I write this!!)

But, it was also so much more rewarding than I remembered.  I earned every wave I caught.  Each ride was a celebration.  Every time I made it back out after seemingly endless paddling was a triumph.  The turtle that swam by my board was a miracle.

It is clear:  I am not a natural surfer.  But without any doubt:  I am a surfer. 

 

Now You See It–Now You Don’t

When I started seriously traveling I bought a camera.  Two actually.  Traveling and photography and complementary disciplines.

I religiously took photos across Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe.  I catalogued the pictures based on location, who I was with, why I was there.  I am great at creating organization systems, and I had I system I was very proud of.

I published some of the pictures on Facebook, some on this blog. Others I just kept.  I also digitized all my old photo albums and added those to the library, painstakingly noting dates and locations.

It was all going swimmingly, until…

Yep.

I lost it all.  I had too many photos and iPhoto became corrupt and somehow the backups weren’t backing up my pictures and my hard disk backup was also corrupted.  The chances of all this happening are infinitesimal.  The geniuses at Apple assured me I was special.

I didn’t feel special.  I felt miserable.  I felt picked on.

Until, I had an epiphany.  Two actually.

The first:  if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it still freaking fell.  Just because I don’t have the pictures of what I did and where I went and who I met didn’t mean it didn’t happen.

fallen tree

Pictures are a memento of travel, not the point of it.  I still climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I still dove at the Great Barrier Reef.  I still floated in the Dead Sea.  It sucks that I don’t have the pics, but I have the memories.

The second:  things are just things.  And, they can often be recreated.  When my mom died I inherited the ring she wore everyday.  It was a garnet (my birthstone) surrounded by pearls, in a diamond shape setting on a simple gold band.  I loved that ring when my mom wore it, and spent hours playing with it while it was on her finger.  It meant the world to me after she died.  Until…

Yep.

I lost it.  At my company’s gym.  I took it off to workout, and somehow it disappeared.  I was miserable.

Until I had an epiphany.  Things are just things.

Mom

My mom didn’t raise me to be materialistic.  This ring was just important to me because of the symbolic connection to my mom. So, I went to a jeweler and had them make me a replica.  It means as much to me as the original would.

So, with my pictures, I found a company who can restore corrupt digital files. They said they were able to restore 18,357 of the 19,146 files that were on the hard drive.  The restored files are sitting unopened under my desk, waiting for me to be ready to start my photo library from scratch again.

Surf’s Up: Part 2

My next few times surfing after Hawaii I realized what a fluke my first experience had been.  In San Diego, Costa Rica and Mexico the ocean kicked my ass much harder than it had in Hawaii.  The water was colder.  The beaches were rockier.  My body immediately broke out into surf rash whenever I looked at a board.  And the waves were not as easy to catch.

But, I kept at it.  Like a true addict I turned a blind eye to the signs that I was hurting myself.  I laughed off my arms that were so sore I couldn’t lift them to brush my hair.  I slathered on aloe vera and Neosporin to my surf rash, pretending my body didn’t look like I had taken a cheese grater to it.  And I was secretly proud of all the bumps and bruises making me look like a 7-year old girl at the end of summer.

Every wave I actually caught washed away the pain.

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And, it wasn’t just the thrill of the ride I craved.  I relished the whole ritual.  Waking up before dawn, and waxing my board.  Carrying it down to the beach, my feet tortured by the pebbled roads.  Paddling out in the dark, silent water.  Watching the sunrise over the horizon.  Straddling the board and gently rocking as I watched the first class surfers cutting across the sea.  Spotting the occasional turtle or dolphin.  And, yes, riding the few waves I managed to catch.

Surfing taught me patience.  And living in the moment.  And that the wave missed is just as beautiful as the wave caught.  And that anything worth doing is worth working hard for.

Surfing taught me that I am strong, and can be graceful, and have great determination.  It reminded me to look around, catch my breath, and just go for it.

SD Surfing

That’s me…standing up…and surfing!

Riveting Travel

When I left my job a few years ago, I wasn’t sure what job I’d want to do next.  I have never looked for a job in my life, things have just evolved naturally and easily.  Some call it lucky, some call it lazy.  Either way, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, and thinking about it was new to me.

While I was traveling and learning about the world and myself, I started writing.  When I was younger I used to write, but for decades this passion was dormant.  But, slowly at first, and then with more and more energy, it started to reawaken.

I spent a year and a half writing.  Going to conferences.  Attending workshops.  Meeting with writing groups.  Reading books.  And writing.  I started this blog, I wrote several children’s books and I completed a novel.

And, I am still writing.  It feels great to have ideas run through my head, and to chase them from my head onto the paper.  It is a challenging and rewarding craft.

Last summer, another opportunity fell into my lap.  I still wasn’t looking for an actual job, but a friend started a company and he wanted me to be the general manager.  I offered him three days a week.

Nine months later I am working 60 hours a week for this new gig.  It is an internet news radio company called Rivet News Radio, and we launched our app on iOs in December.

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I would never in a million years have applied to work as general manager of an internet news mobile app.  I don’t have any experience in journalism, broadcast or otherwise.  I have never launched a consumer mobile app.  I have never been involved in VC fundraising.  Or even really been a radio news person.

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But, I am a crazy internet news junkie.  During my travels over the last 3 years I have become a BBC fanatic.  My friends make fun of me for how many times a week I forward them articles from BBC.com that I think they’ll find interesting.

It makes sense.  I am interested in the world around me, so finding out current events is relevant to me.  More often than not, I have been to the cities and countries being discussed, and/or I know people living there.

So, working with the news is just an extension of my passion about travel.  I wouldn’t have put that together myself, but here I am.

You can call it lazy or lucky; I call it happy.

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Prague Marathon

I am not an athlete.   My sister is.  We have good genes.  We are both strong.  We have good body proportions.  We are coordinated.

But when she wakes up she will move mountains to squeeze in a 20-minute workout.  I will move mountains to squeeze it a visit to Starbucks for coffee and a sausage sandwich.  That’s the real difference.

But, because of my sister mostly, I have always been a borderline athlete.  I ran track and cross-country in high school (she medaled regularly—I didn’t).  I did Tae Kwon Do with her (she got a black belt—I didn’t).

So, the idea of running a marathon wasn’t entirely insane.  When I got it into my head, nobody suggested medication to control my delusions.  But, it was definitely a stretch.

I realized quickly that I needed to somehow commit in a serious way, otherwise it would be too easy to back out.  First, I found a friend who was going to do it with me.  But, I worried she would back out, so I needed more of a commitment.  I decided to sign up for a marathon in a different city—even a different country.  If I got a plane ticket, a hotel, told the world, I couldn’t back out.

It immediately came to me:  Prague!  Prague is an important city to me since I spent my last semester of university there.  I met a guy I fell in love with there, and he was a significant part of my 20’s.  And, my mom came to visit me there.  Every experience tied to my mom was more significant after she died.  Plus, it is a very flat city (minus the giant hill of the castle).

So, I decided on Prague, which meant May (2000).  That meant training through the winter — in Chicago.  Running the streets in ice and snow was a daily experience.  The alternative was running 10-15 miles on a treadmill—not fun.

This marathon was becoming more and more significant.  It was a chance to visit a city in which I transitioned from kid to adult.  It was a chance to prove to myself I could set a challenge and achieve it.

My sister and my aunt flew to Prague to cheer me on for the five hours—yes, it took me grueling hours—to finish the race.  That is love and dedication and support that is unparalleled.

And, at the start of the race I met Amy-Catherine, and woman who was also running her first marathon and with whom I have stayed close.  Amy-Catherine is a being so full of love and lightness and energy and smiles that we ran the whole race together, with our arms above our heads waving at the throngs of supporters.  Every time someone cheered or clapped for us, we waved.  By mile 15, I couldn’t move my arms any more.  I hadn’t done my hours of training in the dark cold Chicago streets with my arms waving above my head.  They throbbed.  I thought they might literally fall off.

At mile 22, Amy-Catherine got a surge of energy, and I told her to go on.  I was puttering out.  They were literally taking the race course apart as I ran I was so far in the back of the pack.  I was spent.  I felt like quitting.  Just then, my sister appeared at my side and ran the last 4.2 miles with me, not letting me walk, not letting me quit.

When I crossed the finish line under the famous Prague clock tower I burst into tears.  I had been here with my mom.  I was here with my sister.  And I had just pushed my body to the extreme with the help of them both, as well as the magical city of Prague.

Surf’s Up: Part 1

I learned to surf on a whim.  My friend Ellen had a work trip in Hawaii (Oahu) and I tagged along, staying for free in her room.  During the day she worked her ass off in 12-plus-hours of standards meetings, and at night we drank Mai Tais together with her colleagues.  While she was stuffed in a conference room debating the merits of our company’s way to store map data on a CD versus our competitors, I roamed the island.

Sure, I felt a little guilty.  But, dwelling on the injustice wasn’t going to do either of us any good.  I’d wake up, go to the gym, hit the Japanese style breakfast, walk along the beach, shop, get a fruit shake and sushi for lunch, play in the waves, and shop in the craft markets.  By the time Ellen returned from each day’s meetings, I would be waiting with Mai Tais in hand on our balcony, full of energy to listen about her day’s frustrations under the fluorescent lights.

Mai Tais

That is probably how my week would have progressed—not a bad week!—if I hadn’t met Mike.  Mike with his big smile and muscled torso was standing at my fruit shake stand.  Like the neighborhood crack dealer, he offered me my first surf lesson for free.

And, as he somehow knew I would be, I was hooked.  It was only an hour, and it involved very little paddling and was not long enough for me to develop surf rash.  I had no idea the pain and effort surfing involved.  All I knew was that standing up on a surfboard was an incredible rush—a strange combination of zen and pride, peace and adrenaline.

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For our second day’s lesson he drove us to the North Shore, our boards casually slung in the back of his pickup truck.

My eyes widened as I saw the waves. The huge waves. The waves that could wash away the entire pick up truck.

Mike looked at me, smiled his magnetic smile, and rubbed my shoulders in encouragement.  “You’ll love it.  You were a champ yesterday.  You’ll do great!”

Who was I to challenge this maestro of his sport.  If he said I’d be great, surely he knew best.

With forced bravado I carried my board into the water, and started paddling out behind Mike.

Within minutes the illusion cracked.

Surfing is hard.  Ridiculously hard.

As I lay on my belly and paddled my arms as hard as I could, I was barely inching forward.  Worse, every few seconds a giant wave would crash in front of me.  And I kept being slammed in the face with white water, occasionally being knocked from the board completely.

Whenever Mike looked back at me I managed to smile, and pretend that this weird waterboarding paddling treadmill wasn’t pure torture.  I refused to give up.  I kept paddling.

Pretty soon my knees, thighs and belly were covered with something I would learn is called surf rash.  Tiny red raw bumps caused by a reaction to surf wax, that were screeching in pain in the salt water and every time I slid them over the board.

Twenty minutes later, I finally made it “out.”  I was past the breaking waves, into the calm of the open water.  I paddled bravely over Mike, who was straddling is board, keeping an eye on me and the ocean.

“Ready for your first wave?” he asked, skipping the gushing praise I thought I deserved for getting out.  “After you catch the wave, paddle back to me.”

That’s when the illusion shattered into pieces.  Every time I rode a wave into shore I would have to paddle back through the white water.

Swallowing, I assumed the position, and paddled with all my might as the wave Mike indicated started to break right behind me.  “Pop up!” I heard him call out behind me, and my body obeyed.  I stood up, and was surfing.

I turned my head and Mike’s fists were in the air, celebrating my success.  I turned back to shore and rode the wave, my body electric with joy.  After jumping off the board, I began the long painful paddle back to Mike, and back to my next fix.

Exercises in Style

In my continuing research about how to be a writer, I picked up a copy of Exercises in Style written in 1947 by Raymond Queneau.

exercises in style

I was instantly amazed and amused by the book.  It tells the same simple story 99 times, each in a different style.  The story is:  man gets on a bus, sees an altercation between two passengers, then sees one of those same passengers a couple hours later getting fashion advice.

Short and simple, right?

Like so much in life, the brevity and simplicity is part of the genius.

Queneau’s 99 versions, each stylized in a different way, are priceless.  As I was reading it, I imagined how much fun he had writing it.  Like the best courses, this seminar in writing entertains as it educates.  Not only does it instruct on the different types of styles it is possible to employ in the craft of writing, it also demonstrates the effect of each.