Saturday, December 27, 2014

Take That Year End Montage And...

I admit it. I've been bitchy about that stupid Facebook "look at your year" photo montage that keeps coming up in my feed. Mostly it's because the default tagline is "It's been a great year! Thanks for being part of it."

The first time I saw it posted my thought process went something like, it hasn't been a great f*#@ing year. In fact, it's been a pretty shitty year and 2014 can go die in a hole. Bring on 2015. No stupid FB video montage for me. Boycott. Boycott. Boycott.

Oh, I watched many of the ones my friends posted. I even smiled a couple of times. But there was no way I was going to even look at the dumb auto-generated crap it had waiting for me. Bound to be a montage of misery. A smorgasbord of sadness. A patchwork of pity. get it.

Bit by bit over the past week though my attitude softened. After lamenting with a friend last Friday night about how ready we were to kick 2014 to the curb, I started to realize there were at least a few good things about this past year. I did see The Afghan Whigs 10 times and take some fun vacations with my little guy. It was an incredible year for me with my running. I've enjoyed some great times with my family.

Over lunch with co-workers Monday afternoon I started to parse it out a bit and realized that apart from the unpredictable roller coaster that was my love life and the constant disappointment of having fighting against unbridled corporate power in my job description, life wasn't so bad this year. And, even those parts had some notable highlights. 

It's so easy when you are at a low point to forget about the great things.

Tonight as I got ready for bed, Facebook went into full aggressive mode and posted my year end montage without me even having to click to see it (only I can see it of course!) It was just too tempting. I prepared myself for the worst and started to flip through "my year". 

It was so fabulous that I had tears in the corner of my eyes when I was done. And I was a little angry (because, you know, I was OBVIOUSLY manipulated by Facebook).

There was a beautiful Easter sunrise with my son. There was my amazing work trip to Brazil. There were many Mets games. And even some they won. There were fun nights out and early morning training runs. There was a new niece born on the 4th of July. There were so many races and the thrill of personal bests. There was a family vacation at the beach and a "mommy" weekend in Chicago. There was Halloween in Idaho with Naomi. There was the most amazing half marathon in Trenton. There was a BQ.

And it was all a part of the 2014 that this time last week I was so ready to send off to die in a hole. Maybe I'll just hang on to this year until Wednesday night. We can start new on Thursday - as planned.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Hard Truth. Some Days I Just Don't Want to Do This Anymore

I just don't want to do this anymore. Any of it. 

The constant exhaustion. The loneliness. The single working mom dance. The flood of decisions that death still demands. The home repairs and car repairs that wait for my attention. The bills that have to be paid. The dating rejection. The 4 year old temper tantrums. The Christmas planning. The day that ends before I even noticed it began. The emptiness. The tears.

I didn't sign up for this. I signed up for the photos I see on Facebook of the families in front of Christmas trees. For the life partner who knows what I'm going to say before I even say it. For someone to help me shop and wrap and celebrate with my son...with OUR son.

I didn't sign up for cancer and I'm fucking pissed. It's been three years since Joe died and for the last two weeks it feels like everything has been triggering about what Domani and I are missing. The benefits notice I got from HR that still had me marked as "married" with the "event" date being the day Joe died. The constant stream of birth and pregnancy announcements accompanied by an unexpected return to the spot where Joe and I went for prenatal classes. The Thanksgiving photo of Joe's siblings and his Dad and the emptiness that filled me as I watched it being taken.

Everything about this feels unfair and some days I just don't want to do any of it anymore. 

Some days I think that someone else could do it better - this single mom organizing for justice thing. 

Some days I think that someone else could do it better - this maintaining a household thing.

Some days I think that someone else could do it better - this raising OUR son thing.

Some days I hit rock bottom and cry a lot. Some days I even throw things or find something to punch. 

Today, I did all of those things and still didn't know how I would dig out.

And then OUR son grabbed a wrapping paper tube and put it in the pocket of his sweatpants like it was a light saber. He told me he was ready to fight the bad guys.

Ready to fight the bad guys. Love this guy.

If he can be ready to fight, then I can find the courage too.

Some days I think that God has this little guy in my life to remind me to keep pushing on.

Newsflash... I wasn't magically better after the wrapping paper tube as light saber incident, but it gave me the courage to share what I needed to with a friend who called when he said he would.

Some days that's all we need to make it through to the morning sun.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'm Shipping Up to Boston!!

It was so funny to me how the day before the Philly Marathon while I was searching for the exact words to capture how I felt I scrolled through my Instagram account and there it was in a photo from Dolvett of Biggest Loser fame. But funnier still when I was looking for a way to put into words everything I was feeling yesterday on Thanksgiving and wouldn't you know it, there it was once again in Dolvett's Instagram account.

Each of those four things speak into my life in a special way this week, but especially the dreams that have turned into reality. How could I not be thankful in the wake of such a big week and with so many wonderful people surrounding me. And so, even though this week brings powerfully strong and sometimes sad memories of Joe, it is also full now of my grateful heart and the story of how I achieved my goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
It was around 3am the "night" before the Philadelphia Marathon when I awoke from the incredibly vivid dream that I missed running a Boston qualifying time by 16 seconds. Sleep immediately went from difficult to impossible. Thankfully, I had followed the racer's rule of getting more than enough sleep "the night before the night before a big race" so only getting a couple of hours leading in to the big one was not going to interfere with the task at hand.

By the time I crossed the finish line at 10:44am, I had firmly put the nightmare to bed and mailed in a more amazing time than even I thought possible. I will never forget that day and the way I felt from the start line to the finish line. 

Running the Boston Marathon is not just an athletic goal for me. Since the moment I completed my first half marathon a year and a half ago, I have had my eye on the Boston start line and not only because it is the ultimate runner bucket list item. I haven't talked about this more personal part of my Journey to BQ yet because the emotion wrapped up in it is strong. Stronger than crossing the finish line of my first big race. Stronger than running the Colon Cancer Alliance races. Stronger even than running NYC for the American Cancer Society in memory of Joe. I think part of me was afraid that if I talked about the strong personal connection before I qualified, I would somehow jinx myself.

Boston was where Joe and I spent our honeymoon. We made lots of great memories then and during other travels to the city. From Fenway to whale watching, Paul Revere's house to Boston Commons - we did it all and loved every minute. We went on a duck tour, walked around Harvard, and checked out almost every exhibit at the Museum of Science. We spent as much time as we could walking everywhere and took the T where we couldn't walk. Our spot to stay was the Omni Parker House. We spent so much time playing the Megatouch game at the bar around the block from our hotel that for our first Christmas as a married couple Joe enlisted his friend Sam to lug a full size Megatouch game into the house as my gift. We ate well, drank plenty, and always got our fill of history, baseball, and Boston Cream Pie. One of the last things that Joe and I did together before he died was look back through our honeymoon photo album. Those moments from Boston are special in a way that I will never be able to describe.

View from the Observation Deck of the Prudential Center

On a tour of Fenway Park

On the whale watching tour

We ate Boston Cream Pie from the hotel bar at least once a day.

Boston Public Garden

So, as I have trained and prepared and worked my ass off to qualify for Boston all of these places and moments have been with me. They will be a special part of running the marathon when April 18, 2016 finally gets here and I will be incredibly thankful for all the happiness I carry with me in my travels to Massachusetts. The 3 years since Joe died have allowed me to more fully embrace the times we shared together as happy memories instead of things that make me constantly sad. Each of those memories is an important part of my life and I can recognize now how they have shaped me and even at this point pushed me to achieve great things.

The weight of all of this came crashing in on me as I waited in the green start corral on Sunday morning. The sun was starting to rise and I had just taken off my outer layer of sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I was ready to start the big race - my quest to qualify for Boston. The tears started welling up in my eyes and I couldn't stop them. Excited. Anxious. Overwhelmed. Mortified. Confident. I knew that I was about to run the race of my life. I could feel that this was my moment. I couldn't wait to get moving. A guy standing near my noticed my tears and asked if I was alright. I was more than alright. I knew that I was on the verge of a great life moment and I couldn't have loved it any more.

It was time to take 18 weeks of training and dreaming and make it all happen.

My race strategy was designed around not repeating the same mistakes I had made in the NJ Marathon in April. I knew that I needed to start out at a conservative pace through at least the first 10k and not make an attempt to pick up my pace faster than 8 minutes per mile until I reached at least 20-22 miles. I also knew that I needed to be generous with my hydration (I carried my water bottle) and with eating my Gu (nutrition). In the NJ Marathon I hit the wall hard and I wanted to make sure that didn't happen again.

So, when I caught sight of the 3:35 pace group a little ways ahead of me at around the 4 mile point I resolved to hold my pace until the 10k and then pull up and stick with them for the long haul. It was the best decision I could have made. In the NJ Marathon, I lost the 3:35 pace group when I had to stop off to use the bathroom at the half marathon mark and continued with the 3:40 pace group only until somewhere between mile 15 and 16 when I slowed at a water stop and never caught back up. The wall I hit was 60% mental and 40% physical. This time around I felt like my training had fixed all of that and prepared me to power past "the wall" and hang tough through the whole 26.2.

My training prepared me for a BQ. The pace group did the rest to power me past a squeaker to an almost 7-minute qualifying time. Jim, the leader of the 3:35 pace group was great. He talked our group of runners through the hills and broke the marathon down into chunks allowing the difficult latter portions to fly by with relative ease. And just when I was starting to feel the burn, we reached mile 19 where my parents were standing with a big "GO ANNE - BQ 2DAY!" sign.

It takes a special person to be there for you on a marathon course (or to hang out with your son while you run one) and I am especially grateful to all of those who have braved the logistics to cheer for me on the sidelines of a big race over the last year and a half. Each race has gotten me closer and closer to this moment. There was nothing sweeter along this course than seeing my mom and dad, knowing I was on pace to achieve my goal, and giving my mom a huge high five. I felt on top of the world.
A high five for my Mom!

My parents positioned themselves near the beer.
I took a pass, maybe next marathon.
I saw my parents again right around mile 21 and then it was a matter of toughing it out to the finish line. I wondered if I would be able to pull away from the pace group or if I should just stick with them through the end. I felt good, but had no idea how I would handle the last 5.2 miles. I tried to pick up my pace a bit around mile 23 but ended up falling back with the pace group. I think that was mostly mental. I did finally pull away at mile 24 (it helped seeing my fellow RVRR club members cheering right around then) and kept pushing through to the finish line. Those last two miles felt amazing as I thought through everything that had gotten me to that point and the reality that I was about to achieve what I had not thought possible just a year and a half ago.

I crossed that finish line sweaty, exhausted, and achy but thrilled beyond belief. Victorious. And with visions of Boston.


And I made sure to find Jim after he crossed the line with the rest of the pace group to let him know that he had helped me to achieve my Boston qualifying time. I love marathon finish lines - so much emotion and relief - and for me this time around everything about it was fabulous. I just could not stop smiling.

My official time for the Philadelphia Marathon is 3:33:22 (8:08/mile), just under a 22-minute PR from the NJ Marathon seven months ago and almost 7 minutes faster than the under 3:40:00 I needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was also an almost identical pace to the HALF marathon I raced in Miami in March. I am amazed by how far I have come in such a short time.

Here are the rest of my numbers:
Women 35-39: 50/740
All Women: 322/4,630
Overall: 1,781/10,361

So, on the third Monday in April 2016, I will be running 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. What I do in the meantime is still being figured out, but I promise it will keep being epic. I can't wait.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Marathon Eve - Ready to Rock Philadelphia

I never expect the week before a race to be easy.

For those uninitiated to racing, the final "taper week" is always rough as you cut back on mileage and intensity. Appetite. Anxiety. Aches and pains. Amnesia.

Simply refer to this post for a full explanation of what happens to me when I am "not running".

This week was all of that times a million. Add to all of the usual taper madness getting stuck in that "historic" Buffalo snowstorm, one work crisis after another, and, for my grand finale....leaving my race shoes behind in New Jersey.

Nothing seemed to fall into place for me in any area of my life this week and it was a real test. At least that's how I'm looking at it as I stare down the last few hours between me and my biggest race to date.

I have a healthy respect for the marathon. I know that in spite of all my work and training race day can be unpredictable. The weather looks promising, but there are 1,001 things that can and may go wrong at any point over 26.2 miles. I am trying to not let those things rule my thoughts.

In some ways I am thankful that this week was rough. It made me realize how much I have been through during this training cycle and in the two years since I started training for my first half marathon. I have come a long way and I know that wouldn't have been possible without the support of family, friends, babysitters, and the countless people who cheer me on from so many different locations (worldwide, in fact!)

This week I have had people in my life drop everything to do the things I needed to be ready for tomorrow. Drop off race shoes. Drive from Buffalo to Philly to watch Domani. Talk ad nauseam about race strategy. Just be there at the exact time and place that I needed it. And over the last 16 weeks I have had support like a single mom could only dream of as I have stuck to a 6 day-a-week training schedule while maintaining a more than full time work week.

I know how blessed I am to be surrounded by such amazing people.

Today, I saw a post on Instagram that stuck with me because it captured what I felt the last 5 years or so have been doing in my life. I felt it was fitting going into this marathon and it inspired me.
A photo posted by Dolvett Quince (@dolvett) on

This training cycle and especially this past week has felt very much like an "undoing" for me - in the best kind of way. I can't wait to see what comes of it.

Tonight I will look back through my running journal (thanks Ken!) and the more than 825 miles I have logged there and lay out my racing clothes (complete with my correct shoes - thanks Mom & Dad!) and know that I have done everything possible for my best performance in the morning.

I will leave it all on the streets of Philadelphia and whether I'm screaming "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" from the rooftops at the end or simply huffing and puffing "Till I Collapse" I will know that this training cycle and this race pushed me to my extremes. I have already achieved more over the past 4 months than I dreamed was possible and that gives me so much confidence for tomorrow and for whatever lies beyond.

Final training run complete - time for 26.2 in the morning!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Countdown to Philly

16 weeks of training are done.
More than 750 miles run.
My first ever 200+ mile month is complete. And my second and my third.
Personal records have fallen in grand fashion as I've gotten stronger and faster.

I have trained in Florida, Maryland, New York, Idaho, Virginia, Illinois, and, of course, New Jersey. I have trained in the summer heat and once or twice already in the freezing cold. I have jumped over snakes, turtles, and frogs and have dodged spiders in their webs. I have eaten more than my share of bugs.

Covered in bugs from an evening towpath run.
I have grown to love track workouts as I got reacquainted with my days as a high school athlete. I bought my first ever headlamp so I can run at night and early in the morning. I have explored the depths of some really crappy hotel gyms and I have run with some of the most beautiful scenery I could imagine.

Towpath between Kingston and Princeton on late summer evening run.

I have just over 1 week of training left until I take to the streets of Philly in my quest for a Boston qualifying time. One more tempo run and then it's nothing but easy mileage between me and my biggest start line yet.

As the kids say, sh*t is getting real. The worst case scenarios are starting to play out in my head. There are creaks and tweaks making their way through my body as only the marathon taper can yield. My friend Malinda who is also chasing a BQ in Philly has been checking the weather forecast for almost a week already.

But I'm ready and my final confidence boost was a kick ass performance in the Trenton Half Marathon this past Saturday. I was careful not to race full out, but even my measured effort brought me in with a 7 minute personal record and a 3rd place finish for my age group.

Crossing back into NJ during the Trenton Half Marathon
on my way to a 7 minute half marathon personal record
This was a final test for me leading up to the Philly Marathon. I wanted to hit a 1:43:00 (7:51/mile) half marathon time because if I did that I would know my training had me on pace to achieve my BQ goal in Philly. But what I achieved in Trenton was a big deal for me for reasons way beyond the implications it has for Philly. It all goes something like this...

I was the "bigger" girl on our high school track distance contingent. My BEST 2-mile time then was pretty much dead on pace per mile for what I just held over 13.1 miles on Saturday.

When I first started running again 2 1/2 years ago, it was a struggle to get through 3 miles and I was doing it at a pace somewhere between 10-11 minutes. I have the Nike Plus app to prove it.

My first half marathon which I ran in March 2013 took me 2 hours 11 minutes and 39 seconds (10:02/mile) and that, to me, was AWESOME.

I started running after my husband Joe died from colon cancer and at that time I looked roughly like this (I'm the one on the left):
With my sister Naomi on Thanksgiving 2011. Joe took the photo.
I have since lost 45 pounds and traded in all my size 14 clothes for size 4s.

This journey has been one of body, mind, and soul.

So when I ran the Trenton Half Marathon on Saturday to test my speed for Philly and I completed it in 1:39:19 (7:35/mile) I felt all of the accomplishment well up inside of me. When I found out from my friend several hours later that I had placed 3rd in my age group and 12th overall, I was on top of the world. And completely shocked. The finish line in Trenton was sweet, but the best part was the energy I still had left. It made me realize that a BQ is truly within my grasp and has me counting the days until I toe my most important starting line to date.

Finishing the Trenton Half Marathon
I first knew I was on to something during this training cycle when I was finally able to break through on my 5k time in August. The 5k had been my nemesis going back to September 2013 when I ran my best time of 23:29 in Philly on a perfect fall morning. I had been training on this cycle using the Hansons Marathon Method for 3 weeks when I finally ran a fabulous 5k on a warm, sunny day at the beach in Asbury Park. I beat my previous best 5k time by 8 seconds and swore that no matter what this was the training plan for me. I broke that time once again by almost a minute just one month later in Long Branch and I knew that big things were happening.

Asbury Park 5k - Finally beating my nemesis...the 5k!
This training cycle has taken me way beyond what I thought was physically possible which means there have been plenty of times when I would have rather curled up in a ball on my couch than go for a run. But I haven't missed a single one with the exception of those that changed to properly recover from the 3 races I ran (2 5ks and the half marathon). On occasion I have shuffled the days and a few times I have scaled back mileage, but I have kept the integrity of my training program fully intact and I owe that entirely to 1) the amazing people who every day help take care of my son while I run and 2) the fire inside that won't let me step away from this journey to BQ.

Just when I think I can't possibly get through another run there always seems to be something to push me on. Someone who tells me she started running because of me. A friend to join me for a track workout. The adoring eyes of my 4 year old asking me if I am going to "run fast" today. A text or a call or a friendly "get your ass in gear". They have all kept me moving and when I cross the finish line in Philly I will think of all the people who have driven me there and the places that have inspired me.

I have been tracking my runs in a running journal given to me by Joe's dad and it has been fun to look back over all the places I have run since I began training at the end of July: my trusty neighborhood route that includes Thompson Park, my parents' neighborhood, the Towpath (everywhere from Lawrenceville to New Brunswick), many hotel treadmills including in Syracuse, Atlantic City, Disney World, and Ithaca, all along the Jersey Shore, Kendall Park, Franklin Memorial Park Cemetery, Chicago, Utica NY, Disney World, Mercer County Park, Veterans Park, Johnson Park, Monroe HS Track, Sandbridge VA, Highland Park HS Track, Buffalo, Maritime Institute (BWI Bike Trail), and Pocatello, Idaho.

It's been 750 amazing miles and looking back I know that I have done all that I needed to do to be able to shout from the rooftops "I'M SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON" once I cross that finish line in Philly. Nine days and it can all be mine.

Sandbridge, Virginia
More Sandbridge, Virginia

September 21, Sunset in Thompson Park

October 8th, Thompson Park sunrise

My Halloween Half - hilly and beautiful in Pocatello, Idaho

Final speed workout - 11/11/14

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Afghan Whigs Do It Again

It's been over two weeks. My ears have stopped ringing. The stress of everyday life has long ago interfered with the permanent grin that had taken up residence on my face and there are only 6 days to my next (and last) show on October 28. But I can't imagine ever having a more perfect concert bender than the 4 Afghan Whigs shows in 5 days which started in DC on Wednesday, October 1st and ended in Brooklyn that following Sunday night.

It's got me listening to the Usher songs on my playlist in a completely new way and jamming to No Diggity while I run. It's got me believing in love thanks to Charles Bradley and whispering a daily quiet thanks to Joe for sending me towards the amazing people of The Congregation. It left me tired and with a distinctly raspy voice, but those 5 days come with stories to tell for life.

I had never been to the 9:30 Club in DC and the show there during the 2012 tour was much talked about among my circle of friends so I made buying a ticket for that one this go around a priority. I was not disappointed. It was the first time I heard Step Into The Light live and it was followed by Now You Know, another first for me to hear live. I felt a little bad for my friend who came with me. I was so excited by the end of Now You Know that I'm pretty sure I punched him in the arm. I don't think it was hard, but it WAS the Afghan Whigs playing NOW YOU KNOW, so anything is possible.

A few songs later came the fun surprise of a "No Diggity" intro to Neglekted and then wrapping up the set was the not surprising, but incredibly moving "Getting Better" ending to Lost In the Woods. No matter how many times I have heard it live now (about 4 in person and many more times on the live CD) I can't get through it without there being a little mist in my eyes. There's just something about that full package that cuts deep into me and at a live show I make sure to relish every minute of it. It is, after all, the one thing I tell "newbies" when bringing them to an Afghan Whigs show - pay attention to the way they integrate covers throughout because it's impressive.

There were friends from The Congo to hang out with afterwards and I honestly couldn't have asked for a better night in DC. Little did I know that the shows would only get better from there.

Friday night it was on to Philly with my friend Cindy who had joined me for part of the 2012 "epic" Afghan Whigs weekend and for the "no encore" 2012 Philly show at the Electric Factory. It was time once again for some Afghan Whigs fun and our night in Philly exceeded expectations. We braved a little bit of rain while waiting on line and managed to track down the fabulous people of The Congo once we were inside. Up at the front of the stage there was plenty of time to catch up with each other on life's happenings while waiting for the show to start. We talked about how they played "Now You Know" in Boston and DC. We talked about the "No Diggity" intro and wondered if we would get to hear it again. We talked about whether we would get a damn encore in Philly this time around. We also talked about plenty of non-Afghan Whigs stuff because, well, life.

Then, we were off and running. Joseph Arthur delivered with yet another excellent set. The venue filled up and, unlike two years ago at The Electric Factory, the crowd really seemed ready for an Afghan Whigs show. I always try to get myself up front for at least one show and this was the one. I couldn't have been happier - surrounded by friends with a perfect view of the band. My vantage point also allowed me to watch the band's monitor tech, Ryan, as he rocked out to EVERY song, which was a blast. 

All was perfect until a drunk man decided to push his way towards the stage during Neglekted. Since it can't be properly described, I call this one: Why I love Greg Dulli from No Diggity to kicking out obnoxious drunks in one video.

It features great Dulli quotes such as:
"I know you ain't gonna make me babysit you, motherfucker."
"This is not a negotiation, brother."
"Where was I? I think I know..." And right in to my favorite part of the have to watch it to appreciate it. The video quality is fantastic. And yes, that's me next to the drunk along with the rest of the fabulous ladies of The Congregation. Greg Dulli definitely knows how to keep a party going in spite of the most ridiculous jerks.

Philly was a fun party. We didn't get Now You Know, but when Lost in the Woods rolled around this time we had a great view of Ryan, the monitor tech, joining the band on guitar and we also had his mom standing right next to us who didn't know he would be playing. It was a cool moment. She was sweet and proud and obviously anxious to catch up with him after the show. Someone from among our group told her that Ryan was clearly getting his own little fan club.

When Lost in The Woods was over we cheered our brains out to make sure that the "no encore" fiasco from 2012 was not repeated. Thankfully, our enthusiasm was rewarded and we were not forced to leave encore-less this time around. Cindy and I had rumbling stomachs from not eating dinner before the show and got soaked by the rain walking back to our car, but it was all worth it. Another successful night with the Whigs.

After Philly there were 2 shows left. On Saturday night it was off to the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan to take in The Afghan Whigs from the first row of the lower level balcony. Members of The Congo have been talking for months about what it would be like to see the band in a seated venue - all of us sharing where we would be sitting and hoping that the energy would be strong and that people would stand to enjoy the show. I had only ever seen Greg Dulli in a seated venue once before - at Royal Festival Hall in London in July 2009 when he was touring with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins. I saw that show with Joe since he was traveling there on business and I was able to coordinate a vacation at the same time. We were newly married and cancer was something that happened to other people. It would stay that way for another 6 months.

He took this photo of me as we waited for the show to start, mostly because he wanted me to get off my phone.
He always told me that I paid too much attention to my phone.
He was right.
Then, we staged this photo to remember the moment. HE was the one using his phone by this point (and for the rest of the night since I decided that I was done being harassed about it).

The Gutter Twins, The London Eye, and our beers.
While I admit that it was a bit odd to see Greg Dulli play a seated venue, it wasn't assigned seating (like The Beacon) and it was The Gutter Twins, not The Afghan Whigs. I will always remember that show as one of the best ones for me and Joe so I went in to the night at The Beacon with no qualms about it being a great time. It was NYC, a whole gathering of Congo members, and The Afghan Whigs - a perfect combination. I knew that there would be plenty of friendly faces including my friend Elissa who was making it out to her one and only show that night.

With Elissa outside The Beacon Theatre
So glad she made it to the show!
I have to admit that the real reason I was excited for the show at the Beacon, though, was Charles Bradley. This was the one show on the tour where we would get to see him open for The Whigs. I really like Joseph Arthur who is the regular opener, but I LOVE Charles Bradley. I have dance parties while driving to Charles Bradley. I cry about my past while listening to Charles Bradley. I dream about my future while singing along to Charles Bradley. It's all there. And, hands down, the best part of Saturday night at The Beacon Theatre for me was Charles Bradley.
I haven't been able to find the setlist for Charles Bradley anywhere but it was fantastic. Full of my favorites and while I was in a bit of a daze I'm pretty sure it ended with Lovin' You, Baby which is what finally caused me to send off that tweet once it was all over and I was in a complete state of music euphoria. (By the way, that outfit he is wearing was a COSTUME CHANGE. For the OPENING ACT. And he EARNED IT.) 

I suppose the tweet deserves some explanation. I'm in a bit of a place these days. I realized during this set that dating has left me pretty guarded so that even when I come across someone who could be maybe be real I hesitate and I fall back on that which is more safe. I was grabbed especially by Lovin' You Baby and one line in particular - "no more afraid to open the door and let you in". When I said that I dream about my future while singing along to Charles Bradley, I meant it and Saturday, October 4, 2014 was no different. There was some dreaming and a little opening of the mental door. We'll see where it takes me - and that's all I'm going to say about that.

The long-awaited answer to the "will people stand for The Afghan Whigs at The Beacon" question...YES!
At least on the floor, they will.
After the show there was delicious grilled cheese and tomato and onion rings with awesome people at a diner a few blocks away where we dished about the show and who saw what from which seats. I loved every minute of it, but hated that it had to end. Thankfully, most of us would be back together again in Brooklyn for another round of our favorite band the very next night. Little did we know it would be quite so epic. We would need some sleep.

It was late Sunday afternoon and I found myself running at a much faster pace than I should have been in order to finish my 16 miles in enough time to shower, change, and drive up to Brooklyn. And then, the traffic. Oh, the traffic. I drive this way ALL THE TIME. It's NEVER this bad. Except tonight. ON AFGHAN WHIGS NIGHT. Every muscle in my body was tight and it wasn't from the run. I envisioned abandoning my car in the middle of the BQE and running to the Music Hall of Williamsburg. I actually started doing the calculations in my head. How many miles do I have left to go? What pace do I think I could manage? How much time is left until Joseph Arthur takes the stage? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? 

I will spare you the gory NYC traffic details and just let this be known.... In case you didn't know, God is an Afghan Whigs fan and She made sure that things cleared up just in time for me to catch the 2nd song of Joseph Arthur's set that night. I found my rightful place among my family in The Congregation and we enjoyed what was by far my favorite collection of concert moments to date (I'm beginning to think there is something about October 5th and concerts for me).

There were some surprises thrown in to the setlist including Turn On the Water and We Two Parted - both favorites of mine - as well as a repeat of Now You Know, which was even more exciting to hear in such an intimate venue. Then, as it came around to the end of the show, we were treated to the Whigs' cover of The Police song Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. I have loved this cover since I first heard it and had lost hope of hearing it live. Not only did we hear it, but Greg shuffled his way across the front of the stage while singing it and then came out into the crowd and ended up right smack in the middle of our little group.
If you're up for a little game of "Where's Waldo" it shouldn't be too hard to pick me out. If you can't spot the glow from my huge grin, then look for the black tank top near that bald Jimmy guy :-)

We had no problem getting the guys to come back out for an encore because the crowd at MHOW was energetic to say the least. This encore started out in much the same way the others had up to that point....Going to Town.....Somethin' Hot.....and then, Greg starts talking about the 2012 New Years Eve show in Cincinnati and the SXSW appearance the following year. And then, Climax. With Usher.

It all took just a few extra seconds to register, but there was Mr. Raymond in front of us on stage with The Afghan Whigs at MHOW doing up Climax like it was Austin 2013 all over again. I am realizing now that thankfully I have come much more unglued from my phone during moments like these and snapped only 1 quick photo during the song. (Luckily, it was a good one.) I attribute much of that to "lessons from Joe". So, I soaked up every minute of that performance including the moment when Usher bowed down to the band and I'll be the first to admit that I've already happily watched the video many times over.

By the time they were done, the energy at MHOW was palpable. The road crew started taking down the stage, but we kept pressing forward and went bananas. Could we get them to come back out again? As it turned out, we could. Just when I thought the night couldn't possibly get any better, there was a second encore. It started with Blame, Etc. and we were about to get Faded except for the fight that broke out and made Greg change his mind and do Step Into The Light instead. Honestly, at that point, I would have listened to the band play their take on Mary Had a Little Lamb and left happy. It was the perfect conclusion to 4 shows in 5 days and I know how lucky I am to have shared those shows with people who have come to mean so much to me.
Four shows in five days and as I finish this post two weeks later I STILL have a huge grin plastered across my face. I love this music, this band, and the amazing friends I have made through them.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Canceling 7434

Almost 3 years later I thought this would be just another mundane administrative task. Call up customer service and cancel the number no longer being used on my cell plan. Except that it's not just any number. It's his number. 

I told Laura, the lovely Customer Service Rep at AT&T Wireless that I needed to cancel one of the lines on my service and I knew that I would be asked why. I was prepared. 

"It was my husband's line and he passed away."

She of course was so sweet and said she was sorry for my loss and told me that she would take care of it right away for me and that I was on a very old plan and she would also find the best new plan for me.

There must be a requirement that the CSR say out loud what she is doing and that she say it more than once.

Canceling 7434...

"feeling reckless"...his last text to me. He meant to say "restless" but the drugs were interfering. 

Canceling 7434...

"Hey, it's Joe. I can't get to the phone. Leave a message." The voicemail recording my friend Erin went to painstaking ends to help me record and save.

Canceling 7434...

The tears were falling down my cheeks now as Laura moved on to talking about the changing fall weather and did her best to get through the steps of the line cancellation as quickly as she could. 

Laura was great. She helped me order the new iPhone I have been meaning to get but never seem to have the energy to follow through on. She adjusted things on my plan that needed fixing and she ended up saving me $90 a month. I have no idea why I didn't call sooner. Except that I do. Grief is a funny thing. You can be ready for your "different" life in so many ways and not yet ready in so many others. 

It was just a cell phone number. But it was a part of my Joe that was still here. It was the number I called when I first got back in touch with him and we started dating again after years apart. I had left him a message after that "Hey, it's Joe. I can't get to the phone. Leave a message." And he had called me back. And after talking briefly, he called me right back again because he forgot to tell me about his encounter with Greg Dulli. It was that phone number. And I didn't realize it when I picked up the phone to call customer service today, but I know it now. There was a lot packed in to canceling 7434. Grief is a funny thing and I'm glad that CSR Laura from AT&T understood it. She was wonderful.

After I hung up with Laura, I closed my office door and put Lost In The Woods by The Afghan Whigs on repeat for a bit. And I cried. It felt like the thing I needed to do. 

Getting a new iPhone still feels a little empty without him here and canceling his phone line sure felt like shit. But like my friend Erin texted to me right after I did it, "joe probably would have told you to cancel it right away." And she is right - totally, 100% right.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reading the Riot Act to Sad and Frantic

As I sit here trying to put this past weekend into words I feel tears well up in the corner of my eyes. They aren't "sad" tears. They aren't quite "happy" tears either. More like "dammit this life I have is pretty freaking amazing even though sometimes it feels awful crappy" tears. And no matter how many times I've tried to write a less sappy blog post it just isn't going to happen.

Music and the people who enjoy it with me have that sort of deep effect on my psyche so it should be no surprise that a weekend of music in one of my favorite cities with some of my favorite people would inspire the type of perspective shift I needed.

I reunited with old friends. I met new ones. I officially retired my old Mizuno running shoes by getting them muddied up at Riot Fest and then plugging away 10 more miles the next morning along the gorgeous Lakefront Trail. I ate funnel cake for dinner and had many, many drinks with friends (and even some strangers). I shared a brunch for the ages with 3 of the coolest people you could assemble in one place. And we all listened to kick ass music until we passed out in our respective beds.

The retirement of my old Mizunos. RF muddy and still did 10 miles.
I was frantic going into this weekend. Frantic and sad. Work has been devouring me from the inside out. The weight of Joe's death has been starting to emerge again in the questions and heartache of my increasingly vocal, soon-to-be 4 year old. The shortening daylight hours were already taking a toll on my emotional well being and, against my better judgment, in many ways I was letting my circumstances define my self worth. The recipe was so bad that I almost canceled the trip which I was all of a sudden going to be making solo.

Thankfully, a wise friend convinced me that it made much more sense to go than it did to cancel and from my first run along Lake Michigan to the final Riot Fest after show I didn't regret the decision for a second.

There was the moment when The Dropkick Murphys broke in to I'm Shipping Up to Boston, a song that I run to during my training runs as I keep my eyes set on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I couldn't have been happier to sing along with the crowd under the gorgeous early evening sun and dream of crossing the finish line in Philly in November with my qualifying time.

Just a demonstration of the random fun of RF. I found Waldo. He goes by Rooster.
He had a flask of whiskey. Don't ask.
There was the conversation with another member of the Congo (if that makes no sense to you then check this out) just before the Afghan Whigs began their set on Saturday. I found myself answering her question about how I was doing with the conclusion that my marathon training was the one thing that was consistent, mostly within my control, and keeping my sanity in check in the midst of everything else - work, dating, parenting, you know, LIFE. It was something of a realization for me. She had some kind words to say about this blog and my journey and it was one of the sweetest moments of the weekend for me. The bonds I have formed with my fellow AW fans and the music we share together are deeper than anything I could explain here. Many of the people I have met through the Congo have become like my second family and our passion for music is not only fun but transforming. When the band began their set at Riot Fest I was so happy to be among friends who understood that flying to Chicago for music wasn't really THAT crazy. In a lot of ways it was NECESSARY.

My view of The Afghan Whigs rocking my face off at Riot Fest.
There was also the moment "Domani" came on at the bar where we were having brunch (with some help from a fellow Congo member of course). And a little later it was "Live With Me". And a little later "Bulletproof" and "Faded". All with their own special place and meaning. All making the music weekend something to remember (or not remember depending on the number of Dark & Stormy drinks and Congo Bombs I ended up consuming before we finally left thanks to same Congo member!) We sang along and laughed together and enjoyed Sunday like I hadn't in a long time. It was perfect.

Over the weekend, I even had music moments while I was running. The most powerful was on my Saturday run, when the random shuffle hit me once again with "On Top of the World" at the exact same spot as it did last time I was in Chicago. What a spectacular feeling...and how wholly impossible to keep my pace easy with the view and the music and the beautiful weather. No matter what comes I am blessed and I was reminded of that again and again this weekend.

From my Sunday run, but still, same amazing view both days.
Aside from the Afghan Whigs performance, my favorite overall set of the weekend was the one by Social Distortion. A few of us had found ourselves some space right behind the sound booth so we didn't have the problem of crowds and no one cared when another fellow Congo member and I started dancing around. I couldn't help but sing along loudly to Ball and Chain, Story of My Life, and Ring of Fire. The dancing and the singing, combined with the fact that while Story of My Life was going strong I was transported back to Guitar Hero days with Joe, left me on a high for the rest of the weekend. I've been listening to those songs since and even paid a visit to the cemetery on my way home to have a listen and collect my thoughts.

Visiting the cemetery.
With fellow Congo member Lisa at our spot for Social D & Patti.
Patti Smith's set at Riot Fest was a turning point for me in how overwhelmed I have been at work. Her performance of "We Have the Power" and her impassioned plea at its conclusion reminded me of why I started working as an organizer in the first place and that even when it seems most hopeless, there are more of us than there are of them.

"We do have the power! Our governments, our corporations, would like us to feel defeated. But, we have it with our numbers - if we use it. Don't forget it!" She might as well have come down off the stage, crossed over the field to the soundbooth behind the Roots stage, and spoke those words while pointing her finger in my face. It felt that direct to my being.

Patti continued on and as she spoke I thought of how beaten down I have felt about the people's fights, but also about THE reason why I keep doing what I do. My faith compels me and my son inspires me. It's about hope in extreme darkness buttressed by proof that people DO have the power if we only decide to band together and use it. This afternoon, two days after "the Patti experience", we received word that the final vote count in the American Airlines Union election was 9,640 Yes to 1,547 No. Workers at AA (before the company merged with US Airways) had been trying to organize with my Union, CWA, for more than 20 years. I worked on the effort just before this one and was heartbroken when we lost by just 150 votes. When people decide to band together eventually they can win.

There were so many great things about my weekend in Chicago - so many things that I needed. Inspiration to fight on. A reminder to get up and get out even when things don't go the way I expect. Hugs and drinks and music with friends. Running in the sunshine with a beautiful change of scenery. Some good old fashioned fun. And I almost didn't even go.

Yesterday, I watched my son giggle and grin and jump around Disney as he saw his favorite characters and heard his favorite songs. This was his own soon-to-be-4-years-old version of Riot Fest and I loved being able to give it to him. And then, when we got in the car on our way to dinner and our cousin Tony popped in Do To The Beast by The Afghan Whigs and Domani's first words were, "Mommy, it's Greg Dulli!" I just knew that all was right in the world. No matter how sad and frantic, I will have Riot Fest and the music and relationships that come with it. No matter how depressing and chaotic, my son and I will have Disney World and the hugs and laughter of these days. These moments are way bigger than the feeble things of my imagination, larger than what I think a "happy" version of my life should look like - and when I picture a life full of love, the moments of the last 5 days are actually what remain.
View while eating my funnel cake dinner and listening to Weezer.