Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Going viral

This whole "being human" business is, on the whole, pretty awesome. But sometimes it's also pretty gross. First thing yesterday morning, I received an e-mail from one of my co-workers that she had been terribly ill over the weekend, and was in the emergency room all morning with acute stomach flu. My natural reaction was worry, and to offer any assistance that the team could provide in order for her to stay home, rest, and recover. My reaction when a second e-mail from another co-worker came in a few minutes later describing the same set of symptoms, which had hit her at the same time, was somewhat less humanitarian. I mostly just wanted her to stay away, although of course I managed a few words of sympathy and support. When an e-mail arrived moments later from victim #3, I went into full lock-down mode. I panicked. I can admit that.

Ready for battle at the office.
We are a small office of only seven, and three were out of commission. I went to the website of my local public health department for information on the Norovirus, a strain of which has made an appearance here during an already-awful flu season. I e-mailed it off to our staff, with information on precautions and recommendations for preventing its further spread, and helped make arrangements for coverage. I considered ways that I might be able to just work from home yesterday, but the virus can live on surfaces for several weeks, and holing up for a month is not really an option (right?). After a couple of hours of pacing around my condo (and confirming that all of the surfaces in my office had been swabbed down with disinfecting wipes before I stepped foot in it), I came to the terrifying conclusion: life is risky.

This isn't news to me. I actually have a masters degree in public health, if you can believe that. There are many hazards of being human, and catching viral gastroenteritis is among the least of them. We live within complex networks of communities that provide us with what we need in terms of resources and support, but they also pose dangers to us. We participate in activities that bring us joy, knowing full well that we might get hurt along the way (think runners' knee, or tennis elbow). When we reach out and engage in relationships with other people, we're also taking the chance that those people will hurt us. But the deal is: we're always hedging our bets, sharing the risks, and guessing that the rewards will be worth it. You are part of my social insurance policy, and I'm a part of yours. I can live with that. Now please pass the hand sanitizer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Okay, who else now has the J. Geils Band in their head? Needing to squeeze my run into the middle of a long workday, yesterday I did a quick lunch-hour run from home into Balboa Park. I'm often struck by the thought when I'm there among the visitors and tourists what a gift it is to have this treasure almost literally outside of my own front door. I frequently get stopped for directions, which depending upon my mood (and how fast I was running) either makes me really happy or really irritated. I was in a hurry to "get in my run," and the park was teeming with crowds, who were doing nothing but slowing me down with all of their enjoying of the warm blue sky, taking sweet family photos in front of the Spanish-style architecture, and meandering leisurely through the park's paths and gardens. How annoying. What were they all doing there on a Tuesday afternoon in January, anyway?

As you know, I'm on a quest to be a friendlier runner, which means waving and/or saying hello to those that I encounter. Among the throngs in the park yesterday, I quickly realized that this was going to be impossible and so gave up a few minutes in. As I dodged a large and slow-moving group that had congregated on the path outside of the Japanese Friendship Garden, I began feeling particularly unfriendly and hopped off the path into the grass to avoid them, in a bit of a huff. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of myself - being irritated by how many people are out enjoying this place that I value so much. My social work training kicked in, and I decided to re-frame my thinking.

So instead of being annoyed by the crowds, I used them as a measure of the importance and relevance of urban parks. All of these people had, on this same day, decided to use their precious vacation time, family time, or maybe even just their short lunch breaks to be in this place together, to learn something new in a museum, and get some fresh air. I might not be able to wave hello to each of them, but I realized that I had an opportunity to be an ambassador to my city and my beloved park as I passed by. Instead of stomping and weaving, I could zip by with a smile on my face, and hopefully make a few visitors feel a little more welcome. And who knows who else one runner can inspire. I like to think that at least one of those tourists yesterday thought to themselves, as I ran by enjoying the warm sunshine with that big doofy grin on my face, "Look at all of these happy, healthy people. Maybe I'll go out for a run later ..."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Street smart. Street love.

I've spent an unusual amount of time thinking about streets over the last couple of days. Today is the National Day of Service, and I’d signed up to do some manual labor at my local Veterans Home. When I showed up, it turned out that they'd changed the date of their event, so I grabbed my phone and searched for the next closest service activity. I wound up doing street clean-up with the Little Saigon Foundation, and was really impressed by this group, who organize monthly neighborhood revitalization activities and are working to create a deeper sense of community among San Diego's Vietnamese residents and business owners. For hours, I picked up trash on the sidewalks and streets of this neat neighborhood, and so spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about the asphalt and concrete beneath my feet. Glad I was paying attention, because look what I found!


Little Saigon is a pedestrian-dense area, and in addition to all of the families out doing their weekend marketing and errands, I enjoyed saying my hellos to the business owners and residents who stepped outside to thank us for what we were doing as we came by. The streets that we travel every day to get to our homes and places of work matter. When they’re full of cracks and potholes, they not only screw up our cars’ alignments, they screw up our community esteem. When we let our sidewalks become uneven and cracked, we’re not only risking a nasty face plant, we’re sending ourselves a message that traveling by foot isn’t important. And when garbage and cigarette butts are strewn about, it gets into our collective head. Do you ever feel as good about yourself when you need a shower and you’re hanging around in your tattered sweatpants as you do when you’re cleaned up and wearing your best-fitting pair of jeans?

Just yesterday, on my morning run, I stumbled upon a stretch of road that had just been repaved. Always fun, right? I love that soft spring of new asphalt. It looked beautiful and totally changed the appearance of that bit of the neighborhood. In that moment, I realized how infrequently I run on trails or in the park, even though I live just a few blocks away from both. I spend several hours every week in Balboa Park and the canyon trails with my dog, but when it comes to running, I want to be on the city streets. Having to stop at streetlights doesn’t bother me a bit when there’s so much to look at, and so many people to try and figure out. I’m really so lucky to have such beautiful, interesting, and (mostly) clean streets to run on every day.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Learning to share

I’m used to running alone. I have a pretty crazy work life with an erratic schedule that can’t accommodate joining a running club or team, and I’ve learned to be flexible in order to get in my weekday runs. At any given moment, I’ve got the basics of what I need for a run in my car (or I get creative, if I don’t – I have been known to wrap my feet in ShamWows or facial cleansing cloths when I’m out of socks), and I frequently squeeze in a run wherever I find myself in the county, whenever I have an hour. So that usually means I run alone.

I’m also used to working alone, which may seem a little odd, because I’m a social worker. The nature of my work is to be out and about, meeting and talking with other people all day long. But for years, I was the only one in my company working in my particular role, I had a great deal of autonomy, and although I’ve never technically been alone, in many senses I was on my own. Last year, we hired someone to join me in my efforts, and it took some getting used to. No matter how great she is (and she is great), someone else doing what I do, and being in my space – literally and figuratively – has been an adjustment.

The past year has been all about adjustment for me, and one of the most significant changes has been joining a local coworking community. If you’re not familiar with the concept of coworking, you can learn more here. I joined out of a practical need for productive workspace in a different part of San Diego County – and quickly found myself knee deep in a supportive community of other professional women who share resources, generate ideas together, and inspire each other.

I’m still in the process of dipping my toes into this community (I adjust to change slowly), but yesterday decided to try something new. When I figured out how and when I was going to squeeze in my 6-miler for the day, I sent off a message to some other members who I know are runners, - some of whom I know, and some I hadn’t met yet - to see if anyone was available to join me. Lo and behold, with just a few hours’ notice, what was otherwise going to be a solo late afternoon run through a business park turned into a group of four, two new friends, and a fun punctuation mark at the end of the work day. (And by the way, lots of commuters waiting at bus stops to surprise with a wave or a quick "hi!") I put out an offer to share my afternoon run, instead of keeping it to myself, and there were others ready to receive it. What else have I been missing out on?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Trying not to miss a thing

When I started running, I was an awkward, skinny tween. I was never any good, but running on my junior high school and then high school track and cross-country teams saw me through some difficult years, and helped an uncoordinated girl who had never been good at team sports feel a part of something special. I loved the camaraderie of long runs after school, bus rides to meets, and the thrill of the occasional point I was able to contribute in competitions. Although I wasn’t a fast enough runner to join a collegiate team, college brought me to San Diego (heaven for distance runners), and the love affair continued. I spent much of my early 20s in the eucalyptus groves on my college campus, the dirt trails of the city’s scenic canyons, and of course along its many beautiful beaches. Eventually I morphed into a full-fledged distance runner, but somewhere along the way, running became a solitary pursuit.

Keep in mind that this was the early 90s, and the proliferation of running groups, meet-ups, and fitness camps had not yet begun, so I really didn’t have a lot of options as an unaffiliated adult. Not only did I learn to love the quiet time that a long training run can provide, but I also began to turn inward.  Like most female runners, I am mindful of my safety, and easily alarmed by stories in the news about joggers and runners who are attacked. It took only a few cat-calls out of car windows and startling honks of a horn while out running alone to begin to feel like a target. I developed a slump in my shoulders and a downward gaze. The way I ran in my 20s was a lot like how I lived my life in my 20s – full of fear and self-doubt.

As the years have passed, I’ve faced anxiety, challenged fear, and developed self-confidence. This is reflected in my career in social work, personal relationships, and even in the way that I run. I’m faster now in my late 30s than I ever was in my 20s, and run with my shoulders back and my head held high. This is due to more than just a good chiropractor. (Although if you’re looking, I do have a great one ...) My carriage as a runner is a reflection of how I choose to carry myself in the world. Every run is an opportunity to see something new, connect with my city and my neighbors, and enjoy them in all of their glory and absurdity. So now I look up. I try to remember to smile (even when I’m struggling), and do my best to give every other runner a wave hello. I notice the beauty, the people, and the funny stuff going on all around me, and I hope they do too. I’m trying not to miss a thing.