Running water.

I have this fancy water dish for my cat. It’s a motorized reservoir that looks like a miniature water slide. Visitors ask me about it, often with one eyebrow raised, and I explain, “it’s not what you think!” I bought the thing on Target deal-of-the-day a few months ago, hoping it would solve Jenksie’s mysterious habit of splashing, spilling, slapping–doing everything but drink–her water. So this new device keeps water moving all the time and does help curb her finicky habits. And it also, in truth, does filter her water and keep it at a pleasing temperature. Some life.

All that to say this:  This morning as I was cleaning my cat’s Petmate Fresh Flow water fountain I realized the absolute absurdity of the situation. I live in a world where my cat can have filtered water, but millions of people live with water that’s unfiltered, unclean, unhealthy, unsafe.

And so I thought, today’s the day. I’ve intended to write about water.org and my race for a long time now. (Essentially since my race on December 4. Yikes.) There’s a lot to say. Get comfy.

First of all, the race.

After half marathon #3, with my favorite biggest fans.

It was a beautiful day in Memphis for the St. Jude Half Marathon. Too beautiful, in fact. In the middle of a Springfield, Mo., winter it seems sacrilegious to complain about 57 degree weather, but when you’re dressed and mentally prepared for 20 degrees colder, a nice day becomes a handicap. I ran 11 of the 13.1 in a tank top. In December. Unreal.

My time was 2:23:37. Top 50% of my age group and just five minutes short of a PR. Takes all the look-on-the-brightside I can muster to say “and” not “but”…I really wanted that personal record (2:18:23) but I did come in just ahead of this lady named Kenya Smith.
So, yes, I am faster than at least one Kenyan.

The night before, as I was trying to psych myself up for the race and down for sleep, I gave myself a mantra: enjoy every minute and learn some things about yourself. Race day mantras are essential. They give your mind a place to land besides the no-no zones of “OMG TWO HOURS!”, “PEOPLE ARE PASSING ME!”, “I COULD QUIT AT ANY TIME & THE AMBULANCE WOULD TAKE ME TO THE FINISH LINE!!” (By the night before race day, my legs are good. My mind is where the real work happens.)

So here are some things I learned:

Enjoying anticipation can be just as important as starting or finishing. With thousands of people in a race, they stagger start times, so slower people like me wait for a while after the real competitors start sprinting. There’s no feeling like those 5 minutes before a race begins. A curious mix of joy & dread, victory & mystery.

The adage is true: Slow and steady wins one, especially those first few miles. No matter how fast other people go. Other people aren’t me.

I love being part of a community with strangers. Love it. Other runners, the spectators, people who wear their medals for the rest of the weekend…it’s nice to be reminded how connected we can be.

People can change. I can change. My friend Amanda got me a deluxe sample box of GU (portable flavored energy gel), and I was SO EXCITED. This is not a thing that would’ve been true a few years ago.

Vuvuzelas really are a great motivational tool.

Second of all, the cause.

I raised over $700 for water.org, and hopefully raised awareness, too.

It’s important to learn that water isn’t just an abstract problem. It’s real problem affecting real people, but we aren’t helpless against it. I first learned about water.org because a good friend from Drury works there. Erin does their communication and social media work, and through her I’ve watched a lot of great attention come their way in the last few months. Because Matt Damon is a cofounder of water.org (along with Gary White–a celeb of the nonprofit world whose WaterPartners helped pioneer microcredit for the cause), his True Grit Oscar buzz has provided a platform to spread the water word on The Colbert Report, David Letterman, CBS Sunday Morning, O Magazine. But there is still more work to do. You can follow their progress: twitter.com/water.

Third of all, the truth.

“It’s easy to remain blind about ourselves when we stay within the safety zone—among people who are just like us, in a place that looks like home. We can trick ourselves into thinking that we are far more open-minded and big-hearted than we really are. It’s when we must walk our talk in the complex landscape of a messy life that self-righteous ideals are whittled down into the honest truth.” –Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open

Above, I said that water isn’t just some abstract world problem. (No problem is abstract, of course, but it’s easy to feel that way. AIDS. Malaria. Infant mortality. Pollution. Fish habitat depletion…eyes glazed over yet?)
These big issues are personal for the people who experience them, but for the rest of us it can be hard to stay engaged without feeling overwhelmed or helpless. And even though this issue touches me deeply, I can’t completely understand. I have never experienced a day without clean water.

And that’s where my book club comes in.

In December we read The Handmaid’s Tale, an allegorical, post-apocalyptic sort of Big Ideas book (society, sex, religion, relationships, men, women, …and Scrabble). So when conversation turned to some Big Picture stuff, like how to engage with the world without being either overwhelmed or under-informed, Amanda mentioned my water.org fundraising. This was the Wednesday before Race Day.

Then one of our newest members, who’s from Kenya and is super wry and straightforward, often challenging our assumptions, said that where she grew up, water was precious. So much so that she’s still amazed sometimes how easily available water is here in America and how much we take it for granted. She used the example of a common practice in her photography class of rinsing prints for 2+ hours in continually running water. Other students just did this without thinking, while she was shocked and rinsed her prints for as little time as possible.

I asked her first if I could talk about her story here, feeling a little odd about coopting something so personal for my “big point” about water. She said yes, and asked that I use her Kenyan name, Aketch. (We all know her by another nickname.) When she first shared her story, I was touched and surprised and a little humbled, to be honest. Like who do I think I am, reducing real pain to a 5k t-shirt slogan or something. I know the problem is real, but I didn’t know it has been real for someone I know. That changes things.

Aketch told me this: “Hopefully someone who reads anything on it in your blog will take the time to see just how precious (and quite rare) water is in some places.” That’s what I do hope. That someone reading this will have a little change in their heart like I did that night at book club.

And that we all keep seeing the light a little more each day, and do our best to spread it. No matter what it is we do.
Writing.
Running a race.
Cleaning a cat’s water bowl.

making a list, checking it twice.

Tonight I’m on Facebook, and an ad for HaveTheRelationshipYouWant.com pops up. And I think, sure, easy enough. Might as well redirect me to EatCheese&Lose5Pounds.net or OhLook!ThatHolyGrailThingIsRightOverThere.org while we’re at it.

Yes, folks, tonight we’re going to talk about boys. Why have a blog if I’m not going to get all Carrie Bradshaw on it every once in a while, right?
Yikes, though. I can already sense that you are squirming. I am squirming. Don’t worry–this will hurt me much more than it hurts you.

I believe without doubt that an fMRI scan of my brain at any moment would reveal activity in at least one of the following thought regions:
writing the perfect joke; planning my next meal; analyzing the last episode of my most recent TV-on-DVD obsession; boys. boys boys boys boys. and boys.

Here’s a curious case, friends: right now I find myself with no particular boy to fret over…for the first time in 10 years.

See it was 10 years ago, when I was a junior in high school, that I experienced a lot of things for the first time: first “real” boyfriend, first kiss, first staying-out-too-late, first (of many, so many) DTRs. Ever since then, I’ve been hovering somewhere on the [ going after ] < —- > [ getting over ] scale. And if I’m honest, I can expand the pathology back to my first non-”real” boyfriend in 1st grade. Twenty years ago.

Yikes.

Twenty years of thinking about boys and finding myself back at square one:  it’s enough to make me wonder when, exactly, is the jig up?

Get this: “My desire for love this time it is not directed toward a certain person, and not even toward any ideal, but toward something true. A “true” love–that works and means something and changes the world. It may come tomorrow, it may come 5 years from now, but nothing, nothing, nothing less is worth wasting my time.”

I wrote that in my composition notebook from summer 2005. (Yep, you guessed it. More math: FIVE years ago.) Something else I did that summer: crafted a 100+ item “What I Want in A Man List”…and you better believe I’m treating you to some gems. Unedited and in no particular order, commentary in red:

1) Talented writer/avid reader. Want to date yourself, self?
2) Enjoys copious amounts of pop culture and worthless knowledge thereof.
3) TALL  (yes, in all caps.)
4) Understands me. That’s a huge one. That alone should be, like, five. !!!
5) Doesn’t swear or spit in public.
6) Believes in male/female equality but will still come to my rescue on occasion. I have faith this paradox must exist. In Disney films.
7) Thinks Dave is funnier than Jay, and Conan is funnier than anyone. Prophecy.
8) Allows me to complain but also tries to cheer me up–in perfect balance. See also: nonexistent fantasy.
9) Empathizes with the horrors of leg-shaving. :)
10) Would look away from a sporting event if I was on fire.
11) Gives thoughtful gifts.
12) Believes in my dreams. (come on!)
13) Loves my writing & thinks I’m hilariously witty. (duh.)

Cute, right? Not so bad, five-years-ago me. But today I know one thing I don’t think I knew five years ago: There’s no such thing as a perfect partner.

The more appropriate list to make, then, is “What I Want in a ME.” Real happiness has got to come from myself. But what does that mean? I’m sure that’s a question I’ll still be asking five years from now.
And if I happen to be asking it alongside a Paul Rudd-ish fellow who asks the same of himself, and is good at hugs and vegetarian cooking…well. Life’s not a Cole Porter song or Jane Austen novel, but a girl can still dream…
(See #12)