A year and a half after taking Pat Falconer’s awesome bird illustration class at the Austin Museum of Art, I took it again. I had to. I enjoyed it so much the first time around that I couldn’t wait to bust out the colored pencils and mineral oil for another round of fun. Plus, you always see neat things at Laguna Gloria.
Most importantly, though, Pat is a great teacher — and a neat person all-around. I need to post pictures of her amazing house-slash-art gallery. It’s filled with fantastic paintings, needlework, and woodwork, most of which are animal-themed. You can see some of her pieces in this great blog post. “The Rapture,” in which she imagines dogs getting called to heaven while people get left behind, remains one of my favorites:
Out of the 5 (I think) classes I’ve taken with Pat, this one was my favorite. The other students were friendly, funny, and absolutely charming. Usually, every class (especially an art class) has That One Guy Or Girl who irritates everyone. But not this class. Everyone was lovely and great fun to be around.
The first week, we sketched with pencil, then outlined with ink pens. Here’s my initial sketch of a mockingbird. He got a bit sassy:
We used lightboxes to trace our sketches onto thicker paper, then filled in the rest. So, yes, there was some tracing involved; but you still had to draw the first part and finish sketching / color in your traced edition. I’d place the pad of thicker paper on the sketch pad and draw around it to ensure my drawing would fit — hence, the rectangle around the bird.
This is the finished version of the mockingbird, done in pencil and ink. I didn’t erase the pencil marks because I’m lazy, but I kind of like the little extra shading it gives the picture. Note the revised T.S. Eliot quote. (And yes, it’s from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” not “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” “Prufrock” didn’t have drawings; “Practical Cats” did. Whatever. Employment of artistic license, yo.) The last time I took this class, I felt the urge to give all my birds “Lord of the Rings” quotes. This time around, Eliot called to me:
During Week 2, the class worked on drawing a “lovely fairy-wren (maturus amabilis).” Here’s my original sketch:
And the final product:
I finished my drawing a little early, so I got overly ambitious and tried to sketch another wren with pen and ink. It didn’t turn out so well. My bird looked less feathery than hairy.
Behold the final version:
I wanted to draw a bobwhite quail for the fourth and final class. But at the end of the third class, I started sketching this saucy little guy, and I just had to finish him. (I was working from this photo.)
And here he is, all grown up. Unlike the last drawing, where I used colored pencil for the whole bird, I outlined this guy in ink pen and used the same pen to fill out his plume and chin area.
What surprises me every time I take an art class is that I can draw things that sort of look like the things they’re supposed to look like. I never displayed artistic talent as a kid. Well…maybe I did, but I didn’t get to express it. I remember my second grade teacher punishing me for something stupid like poor penmanship, and making me miss art class as a punishment. That’s my only recollection of art class (or lack thereof) from childhood. I think the incident stuck in my head as a life lesson when it shouldn’t have been one. Part of me still thinks that art is something I’m not good enough to do — something that’s reserved for Other Kids. That, and the supplies are still wicked expensive.
But I have to admit that it feels pretty good to look at these sketches and think, “I made this.” In 2006, I couldn’t draw a stick person without it looking like a scribble. Now, Mr. Quail springs to life on my paper. Perseverance and practice: sometimes they lead to pretty good results.
Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
Exciting things are afoot at the That’s A Girl’s Car headquarters! (By which I mean my study.)
The first exciting thing is that I got Orlando Bloom, my orchid, to grow a new branch AND sprout three new flowers! (Though technically that took place in my kitchen, not my study.) The three new flowers are doing very well. Sadly, the rest of the flowers on the older part of the branch are not doing so well. I started losing blossoms the day the last new flower bloomed. Oh well. Four months is a pretty good run for orchid flowers, isn’t it? Especially if you get the orchid to grow new flowers during that time.
The other exciting thing to report is that I’ve officially launched my own copywriting and editing company! Behold the glory that is Quail School Media.
From the website:
Why should you hire Quail School Media for your freelance writing and editing needs?
- Our staff have worked with private companies, nonprofits, state agencies — you name it.
- We’ve written press releases, website copy, speeches, newsletters, book promotional copy, blog posts, applications that have won international awards, and more.
- We’re familiar with both AP Style and the Chicago Manual of Style.
- We’re located in Austin, Texas, but can handle almost any project remotely.
Also, before you ask, “What’s the deal with that name?”, go here and read the fantastic story of how Quail School came to be Quail School.
I’m happy to report that projects are already pouring in. But I always have time for my blog readers. If you have a writing / editing project and want some help, e-mail me. I’ll even offer you a discount!
That’s the newest, most exciting stuff going on around here (other than pollen and allergies, which are really not that exciting). I’ve also been doing some fun interior decorating around the house, but I’ll get to that in another blog post.
What’s new and cool in your neck of the woods?
(Update, 5/14/13: it has come to my attention that I neglected to mention my awesome graphic designer, Tracy K. Greene, in this post! Tracy is the brilliant mind behind the Quail School Media logo. She is incredibly talented and a joy to work with. Check out the rest of her portfolio here!)
Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
And if love remains,
Though everything is lost,
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost.
Last Tuesday, Rush played the first show on the second leg of their “Clockwork Angels” tour — the first show since their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction — and OMG YOU GUYS IT WAS THE BEST SHOW OF MY LIFE.
That’s a tall order to fill. Up until Tuesday, the best show of my life was seeing the musical “Tommy” when I was 15. The show stayed with me partially because I was blown away by the visuals and the production, and partially because it brought my family together when I thought nothing could. Before the show, everyone was fighting. Everyone. My mom and I were squabbling, as were my sister and my mother, my brother and my sister, my cousins and my uncle, my grandfather and my uncle, etcetera. But somehow, after sitting together in Bass Concert Hall for a few hours and watching MTV heartthrob Steve Isaacs belting out song after song, we all stood up and we were so happy, you guys. My uncle — a man known to hold a grudge — said with a huge smile, “Let’s all get dinner together!”
So, up until last Tuesday, that was the best, most meaningful show of my life (though, of course, the first time I saw Rush was a close second). But this concert was even better.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know this, but people bring it to a Rush show. Everyone wears their Rush t-shirts. Those of us with Rush tattoos are flaunting them. I wore a Stop Staring! crimson dress with little black polka dots and a v-cut back. Somehow I neglected to nag David into getting a picture of me, unlike last time; but basically, if you saw this girl but with way shorter hair, that was me:
Several people complimented my back tattoo, which meant a lot to me. A couple of guys even asked to take pictures of it. At the time, I was super psyched and very flattered. Now, I kind of regret it. I’m about 20 pounds overweight, despite my recent efforts to change that. So I’m sure that, if the pictures are ever posted online, I’ll be ripped apart for my body’s squishiness.
BUT. That’s okay. You know why? Because people liked the tattoo enough to want to photograph it. And that’s pretty awesome. I gave both photographers Quail School Media business cards and asked them to e-mail the pictures to me. Hopefully that will happen. Until then, we have this extremely blurry photo David took:
Now, as much as I love music, I approach concerts with wariness. I inevitably get stuck by the most annoying people at the show. But David and I always meet fun and interesting people at Rush concerts. In San Antonio last fall, we sat next to writer Rachel Graves and her husband, and they were awesome. And in the Erwin Center last Tuesday, we sat behind a mom and her 16-year-old son, who listed Rush as his favorite band. His face lit up when she told us how he talks about the songs’ meanings, and how Rush is all he’ll play in the car. Talking with them was such a delight. “It was like having a conversation with myself when I was that age,” David said later. And seeing that kid lose his mind when “Limelight” came on — well, if you haven’t seen a teenager howling, “OH MY GOD!” when his favorite band plays one of his favorite songs, you are missing out.
Before the show, we talked about whether or not the set list would be different on this leg of the tour. I remarked that I’d heard they played “Bravado” at a few California shows. “I can’t believe I missed that,” I said wistfully. “I’d give anything to hear that live.”
Oh! I’ve forgotten to mention something pretty important: the fact that we had TOTALLY KICK-ASS SEATS, YOU GUYS. Maybe that’s part of what made Tuesday night so special. There must be a direct correlation between closeness to the band onstage and enjoyment of said concert.
So we have these incredible seats, and the first video comes on, and I’m shaking with excitement, and then suddenly they pull the covers off the equipment and OH MY GOD THERE’S GEDDY LEE HOLY SH*T HE’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF US.
“Subdivisions” is a delightful blur in my memory. I started grooving during “Big Money,” giving David the ubiquitous “Rowr!” near the one-minute mark. “Force Ten” was so great, especially the on-screen video with “A Show of Hands”-era sheep and the “Bye” at the end. I started recreating my Beyonce-like moves from the last show. And I loved how, when Geddy Lee addressed the audience for the first time, a plethora of “BLAH” signs rose from the crowd on the floor, showing great love for Alex Lifeson’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame speech.
The tears started during “Grand Designs.” I couldn’t help it. I was fervently lip-synching throughout the show to spare those around me from my singing; but I had to join Geddy for the last “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh…”s.
David just about lost it during “Territories” and — returning from last time — “Analog Kid.” I stopped my dance performance for Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo because it is always AMAZING and seeing him play every single note is far more important than me shaking my butt.
I kept waiting for “The Pass,” perhaps my favorite moment of the last concert, as I totally wasn’t expecting it. “I can tell you what’s coming next,” I told David as a few pre-song notes drifted from the stage.
But I was not expecting what came next.
I was not expecting “Bravado.”
The 16-year-old in front of me turned around and pointed at me and cheered. But I was falling backward, with David holding me up. I was sobbing. I was a mess. The joy hit me like a wall. I was so happy, it hurt.
Later that night, I wrote on Facebook:
You go through life and you see horrible things and experience horrible pain. And, eventually, part of you believes that something as simple as a song will never heal you. Will never make you feel better. But tonight, I heard “Bravado,” and even though it didn’t erase the anxiety I’ve developed over the last year and a half, for a little while, it made the fear vanish. For a little while, I was hopeful again. For a little while, I was happy again.
Everything that followed was floating in a glittering sea of joy. “Where’s My Thing?” was so much fun, as it always is, especially the extended drum solo. And the kid in front of me lost it over “Far Cry” — a song deserving of his (and my) shrieks of joy. I was a little nervous about the pyrotechnics, DAMN, they were cool — as was hearing the crowd cheer after them.
David ran out during intermission, and I chatted with the guys behind me. Turns out they were both from McAllen, too. They even went to my high school. It really is a small world after all.
The second half of the show was pretty epic: 14 songs, plus the encore. Since I was way closer to the stage than I was at the last concert, I could hear the string section a lot better. But what I didn’t anticipate was the warmth from the pyrotechnics. The blasts in “Far Cry” were loud, but I could really feel the heat from the fires in “Caravan.” I got a bit worried for the people to my right. Maybe they should’ve brought marshmallows.
I couldn’t bear it anymore, so I had to dart out for a bathroom break during “Halo Effect” (after Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo, of course). On the way back, I saw the line at the merch table was nonexistent, so I bought David a tour book, which drew approving comments from the McAllen crew behind me.
I LOVED “Manhattan Project” and (after the phenomenal drum solo) “Red Sector A.” The songs’ subject matter is more than a little dark (the atomic bomb and the Holocaust? How could it NOT be dark?), and the nuclear blast destruction videos were a little disturbing; but I absolutely love Rush’s WWII and Cold War-influenced material. Not everyone’s a fan of the synth era, but “Grace Under Pressure” is one of my favorite albums, and I love “Power Windows,” too.
Closing things out were the always fun “YYZ,” “The Spirit of Radio” (hello, beloved ankle tattoo!), “Tom Sawyer” (the first Rush song that won me over), and the “Hey!”-tastic “2112.”
At some point during the second half of the concert, Lifeson and Lee briefly switched places, and suddenly Alex Lifeson was right in front of me. (Well, me and about a hundred other people below me in our section.) To have your musical hero looking right at you (or in your general direction), grinning and playing up a storm, is the most dizzyingly delightful thing ever. And when Geddy Lee came up to the edge of the stage later in that song, or during another song (yeah, I should’ve taken notes), and played and smiled at all of us as we cheered and jumped and waved for his attention: it was the best. Such sheer, silly, wonderful joy.
I know that, if this is going to be a real review, I should probably criticize something. But it’s hard to find anything to criticize, other than the fact that Alex Lifeson’s guitar stopped working 2 separate times, and it took his tech a few measures of each song to hand him a new instrument. But really, that was the only challenge, and even that was a mere heartbeat of oddness in the fantastical lifespan of the concert. On the Time Machine tour, Geddy Lee’s voice wasn’t quite reaching all the high notes; but in Austin — just like in San Antonio last fall — he sounded perfect. Better than perfect, even.
I needed this experience so much, you guys. Things have felt so brutal lately. The Boston Marathon bombings (a block away from where I worked for 2 years), the explosion in West, Texas, and a slew of closer-to-home problems have left me feeling so drained and so lost. I went into the Erwin Center last Tuesday with a heavy heart and a wary attitude. I knew the show would be fun, but it wouldn’t really change anything in my life. It’s not like one night of music could heal me.
And that’s true. But one night of music could start to heal me.
I came home to the same problems that were there before I left, but my heart was lighter than it had been in weeks. Everything wasn’t better, but I was happy. So happy. And I haven’t been happy in so long.
Every time something terrible happens to me, I feel like part of me stays stuck in that moment forever. I’ve lost a lot of little parts over the years. But I also feel like part of me is still at last Tuesday’s concert, still watching “Bravado” with tears streaming down my face, occasionally mopping the mascara-flecked rivers with a tissue. And of all the places in the world to be stuck, it’s the best one I’ve found so far.
Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
I wasn’t in Boston when the bombings happened. My friend — a doctor at one of the city’s biggest hospitals — was at home with her family. My friends who work downtown were fine. My friend running the marathon checked in later; he wasn’t near the blast.
I have no connection to this event, other than the fact that I spent two years of my life working blocks from the marathon finish line. That I walked those streets every Monday through Friday. And that the hospital where I worked was in the news, photographed with armed guard in front of it.
But this isn’t an “I was there” missive. It’s just a series of memories from someone who grew up very, very far away from Boston, spent a portion of her life in it, and came home permanently changed. Broken, even.
But not because of the city.
I often refer to 1999-2001 — my first two years after college — as “the spin-off sitcom years.” I lived in Cambridge, but almost everyone I knew and loved from college had moved elsewhere. I scraped by on $24,000 a year, then $27,000. This was at the height of the dot-com boom. I lived on $0.89 turkey pot pies, Easy Mac, and Pop Tarts. I’m surprised I didn’t develop scurvy.
When I graduated, I wanted to be a writer. If that didn’t work, I wanted to be an editor. I didn’t want to go through recruiting, like most of my classmates. I wanted to find a job that wasn’t i-banking or consulting. I thought it was strange that so many kids straight out of college were somehow qualified to be consultants. But they ended up making twice what I did out of college, so that shows how much I knew.
Shortly before graduation, I interviewed to work at the Boston Phoenix. I loved that paper. It was a receptionist position, but they assured me that I could write for the paper, too. It was a great in, they told me.
I got the job. It paid $6 an hour.
I declined the job.
They came back and made me another offer. “We don’t usually do this,” they told me, “but we really want you to work for us. We can offer you $6.50 an hour.”
It broke my heart to turn that down. But accepting it meant I’d have to work two jobs, and I didn’t want to do that unless I had to. So I decided that I’d just write in my spare time, and would try to freelance after I had a stable day job. And surely I could find a stable day job in publishing.
Everyone told me that, if I really wanted to make it in publishing, I’d have to move to New York. But I didn’t want to move to New York. I liked Boston. It was pretty and familiar. I wanted to see if it could become my home. So I stayed.
I did not make it in publishing.
I tried, though. My first job out of college was at Houghton Mifflin. I’m pretty sure I got the job because, during a summer internship, I’d befriended an employee over our mutual love of Rent. She was very quiet, but very nice. Her boss, however, was prone to yelling. I am prone to crying when yelled at.
I worked in a quad of cubicles, surrounded by other editorial assistants. They were so smart. They were so nice to me. They were all probably grossly underpaid.
Around the corner from our cubes was a giant window. I loved that window, even though Boston would get dark at 3 p.m. in the winters. I loved that, when it snowed, I could look out the window and imagine I was in a giant snow globe, where everything was cozy and lovely.
I was terrified of my boss and bored by my job, but I loved every other part of working at HMCo. I loved the grand building with a brass dolphin embedded in the entrance floor. (Is it still there? I doubt it.) I loved the massive sunlit atrium that looked like something out of a palace. And I especially loved working in downtown Boston. I loved walking past F.A.O. Schwarz, even though I couldn’t afford any of the toys. I loved gazing in the window of Shreve, Crump and Low, which I remembered from the book Anastasia At Your Service. I loved that, if I was really stressed out, I could walk through Boston Common over lunch or after work and look at the swans and flowers, trying to assuage my fears about money and my future. (Though I didn’t love the day I walked through Boston Common wearing a leather messenger bag, thrilled that every handsome man I passed smiled at me, and finally realized at the Park Street T-stop that the bag strap had undone two of my shirt buttons.)
I tried to freelance. I had a connection at the Boston Globe: a prominent writer whose fame I wasn’t aware of when I met and absolutely charmed her. (Once I realized how important she was, I flubbed every meeting and conversation.) She connected me to someone who let me write a neat article about a BU painting class and the elderly Boston residents serving as its models. It had a neat hook: artsy kids with turquoise hair were talking and connecting with 80-year-olds, who were having their stories heard and their faces gracing striking pieces of art. It got published in the Sunday Globe. But after that, nothing. I inquired a couple of times about more work, but ultimately, I am shy and submissive: not journalism material.
Everyone told me that it would tarnish my resume forever if I left my job in less than a year. But my boss’ yelling fits were getting louder and more common — especially since, in my panic, I would occasionally misplace things. I told myself that getting fired would be worse than leaving the job early. I posted my resume on a job-finding website, and — in a move that probably hasn’t happened since 2000 — it got an interview offer. A woman from the Brigham and Women’s Public Affairs office e-mailed, “I’m looking to fill a job and HR isn’t moving fast enough. You seem like a good, smart writer. Come in for an interview?”
I couldn’t believe she hired me. I couldn’t believe I got a $3,000 salary raise. Today, I can’t believe I didn’t ask for more money.
My daily commute shifted away from the brass dolphin and F.A.O. Schwarz and Shreve, and to a less impressive but still perfectly nice building across from the Prudential Mall. (The actual hospital was several T-stops away; we were off-campus due to space limitations.) I’d pass the Boston Public Library almost every day; and while I rarely went inside (which I still regret), I always gave a dollar or some change to the long-haired, wizard-like man playing the recorder beautifully outside the building.
My food habits changed at BWH, too. There was free coffee in the office — as much as you wanted — but the only creamers were Mini-Moos. I drank so many that, to this day, even the sight of those little containers makes me dry heave. There was a cafeteria on the top floor, where the charming cafeteria workers always joked with customers as they cooked burgers. And I could occasionally afford a burger. Or a Finagle A Bagel chocolate chip bagel, only $0.89 with butter (you let the butter soak in for a few minutes and OMG HEAVEN) or $1.24 with cream cheese (but that’s expensive, so you only get them on special occasions). Or the unbelievably cheap sushi restaurant I found on posh Newbury Street, of all places; you could get 6 pieces of a tuna or salmon roll for only $2.99.
I loved my boss. I loved my job. And I loved working for Brigham and Women’s Hospital — knowing that, in some small way, I was Helping People. I wasn’t going to be a world-class writer or editor, but my little articles about employee recognition awards and hospital teams training for the Boston Marathon were brightening someone’s day (though the time I misspelled “Marathon” in a headline brought more calls to the office than anything else I wrote).
Then my boss left. Then I noticed how clique-y the office was. I remember buying a sweater on sale from the Ann Taylor at the Prudential Mall (it was the only thing there I could afford), only to have a woman in the office snidely tell me, “Oh, I saw that sweater on sale, too.” I started drinking after work — more than usual.
I didn’t know I had an anxiety disorder. All I knew is how lonely and lost I felt. Walking — constant walking — was the only thing that even started to quell my fears. Every day over lunch, I would walk around the reflecting pool by the First Church of Christ Scientist. Sometimes, I would walk past the Copley T-top (Prudential was closer, but only the E trains went through it), going on to Boylston or even Park Street. One day, in the spring before I left, I walked all the way back to my Cambridge apartment. I’m still amazed that I did that.
“Come back to Texas,” my family prodded me. “Think about your future. You need to go to grad school.”
“Anything. But it needs to be at UT. It’s nice that you went to Harvard, but your grandfather was on the Board of Regents at UT, and it’s very important to the family that you to go UT for your graduate degree.”
My mother had gotten remarried two weeks after I graduated from college. I had a bevy of stepsiblings I didn’t even know. But I wanted to get to know them. I wanted to be part of a family again. And I knew what I didn’t want: to continue scraping by in Boston, finding new roommates well into my 30s and 40s because I couldn’t afford to live by myself, struggling through the dark winters and the increasingly brutal summers.
Boston slipped out of my grasp, even as I walked its streets every day. I told myself the beautiful buildings on Berkeley and Boylston Street belonged to other people, not me. They were for people with confidence, with career paths, with money (or the promise of money in the future). My roommates — strangers when they moved in — had turned out to be delightful, and my college friends were all making plans to return to Boston; but still, the city stopped being my future. It turned into a temporary locale, a place I was circling until I could land in Texas.
I applied to the then-School of Library and Information Science at UT-Austin. My boyfriend at the time wanted to go into academia; I told myself I’d become an academic librarian and would follow him wherever he went.
Spring came to Boston. I plotted my escape. I’d walk to my apartment from the T stop, looking at the buildings boxing in my view of the sky and telling myself that I’d be able to see the whole sky in Texas. I’d go to the Crane store in the Pru, looking at the stationary and saving up for the boxed sets on sale so I could keep in touch with my friends and then-boyfriend after I left. (He was going to England for grad school and unsure when he was returning.) I bought a famed gurgling cod pitcher for my mom and another for my boyfriend’s family, both in white, and treated myself to a cobalt blue one.
One day, after a sharp disagreement with a co-worker, I stormed out and kept going until I reached the South End. The trees bloomed lushly over the cobblestone sidewalks. I stopped at a fruit vendor’s stand and bought oranges for one of the few co-workers who seemed to like me. I rarely ate oranges before working with him, but he’d always peel one and give me a few slices. Throwing that orange to him when I returned to the office, refreshed from the spring air, brought me more joy than I’d had in months.
The weeks before I moved home that June were exciting times for the office. One of my assignments was covering a unique Boston Marathon runner: Danalyn Adams Scharf, the first female heart transplant recipient to complete a marathon. I also interviewed a number of runners affiliated with the hospital and its charitable causes. I remember the joyful chaos of the marathon: all the cheering, the people milling about, a wonderful undercurrent of excitement in the air.
Then, Governor Jane Swift — the first governor to give birth while in office — had her twins at my hospital. A TV reporter held up a copy of “BWH Bulletin,” one of my newsletters, on-air. When I saw that on one of the media room TVs, I cheered so loud that co-workers ran over to see what was going on.
The office had a farewell lunch for me at a fancy restaurant. (An empty chair stood at our table. They’d invited my then-boyfriend, but he’d stood them up.) We walked to and from lunch under those beautiful blooming trees, the sky a perfect cerulean blue, laughing and joking about everything that had happened lately. And for just a little while, everything stopped being stressful, and was just as perfect and gorgeous as that sky and those trees and flowers. For just a little while, it felt like God himself tore through all the bullshit, pointed at me, and said, “For the next few weeks, everything is going to be okay, because the most important thing you’ll take away from all this is that You Helped People.”
I moved back to Texas, taking with me — among the rest of my things — a printed photo of the hospital flocked by news vans, their live feed poles towering high, all there because of Governor Swift’s babies. The media spotlight turned toward my hospital, but for a lovely reason.
I left Boston with P.J. Harvey’s Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea in my head. Even now, when I hear “You Said Something,” I am still walking on St. Botolph Street, into the South End, trees and flowers and red brick buildings around me, welcoming me, becoming — for at least a moment — my home.
Everything I’ve written above is not the story I usually tell people. I’m quick to point out, with a big smile, that I’m a Texan at heart and I couldn’t wait to come back to my home state. I tell people I never really felt at home in Boston. That I’d always planned to settle in Austin.
I think I say that because, in my heart, I know Boston didn’t chase me out. I know I ran away. I probably never would’ve risen to the top at HMCo, or worked at the BWH Public Affairs office forever. But neither would my nightmare of the desperate 40-year-old begging people to live in her crappy apartment have come true. (Probably.)
I’ll always regret that I left Boston feeling like a failure. Like just another kid from a small town who couldn’t cut it in the big city. I don’t think I’ll ever get closure on that. But it helps to think back and remember that there were good parts as well as bad parts. That, in a small way, I Helped People. And that nothing’s stopping me from continuing to Help People, even if I don’t work at a hospital anymore.
So I remember. And I tell myself I’m going to move forward, despite my regret. And maybe that’s all the closure I need.
(If you want to contribute financially to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, I encourage you to visit The One Fund. If you want to donate blood, contact your local American Red Cross or blood donation center. And bless you for being, as Mr. Rogers’ mom said, one of the helpers.)
Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
There’s no Totes drawing to go along with this post. Sorry. The week just sort of got away from me.
Progress (Or Lack Thereof)
When I started the “Health, Yeah!” project a month ago, I told myself it was more about getting healthy and less about losing weight. But the truth is, I did want to lose weight, because that would be healthy for me. I’m overweight. I’m not obese, but I do need to shed about 10 to 15 pounds to be a healthy size.
I thought I did everything right. I worked out twice a week. Both my awesome trainer and I were careful not to aggravate my injuries. I opened a My Fitness Pal account and set it to 1320 calories a day. I bought a Fitbit and aimed to have 6,500 steps a day. Yet the scale hasn’t gone far past 164, the weight I was at the end of February. I’ve gone as low as 162.5 and as high as 164.5, but the number never ventures far from 164.
I’m not sure why I failed. Maybe I didn’t do enough cardio exercise on my non-gym days. Maybe I ventured too far out of my calorie limit for too many days. Maybe I wasn’t aggressive enough in meeting my daily Fitbit goals. Maybe I’m just getting older and my body is becoming a hoarder of everything: fat, injuries, sad memories.
So, yeah, this is pretty disappointing.
I know it could’ve been worse. I didn’t get any more injuries. And I didn’t gain weight for more than a few days. But I’d be lying if I said I was happy with my progress.
It’s not like going backward is an option, though. I don’t know if I’ll log into MyFitness Pal every day for the next month, and I don’t know if I’ll wear the Fitbit every day. But at least I have knowledge about my behaviors, and — as I kept saying throughout these posts — knowledge is power. Several months after I graduated from college, I went to the dentist for the first time in years; I hadn’t been able to afford it before then. I only went because I thought one of my teeth had gotten chipped. Turns out I had nine cavities. NINE. Huge ones, too. I wept in the chair as the young dentist snapped at me to just make the appointments to get the work done. But what if I hadn’t gone? What if I’d decided it could wait, since I wasn’t in physical pain? I don’t even want to think about that.
The knowledge I got from scrutinizing my unhealthy eating and exercise behaviors over 30 days hasn’t magically changed my life. It hasn’t brought me down from a size 12 to an 8. But it has helped me make small, workable changes to my lifestyle, and will hopefully prevent the equivalent of that awful dentist visit down the line.
I wish I was losing weight and feeling more energetic like I did when I started working out in 2006. But we don’t always get the happy endings we want — at least, not in our desired time frame.
So this ends the month of “Health, Yeah!” posts. Like I said, I’m still going to be working out and trying to get healthier, and I will write about it on occasion. But I’m going back to other blog topics for a while. Like vintage cookbooks. And redecorating. And other fun, random stuff that I think will be fun to write about, and even more fun to read about.
Thanks to everyone who offered supportive and encouraging words during this project. There have been so many of you, and your kindness has been overwhelming. And a very special thanks to Amalia and the whole crew at GrassIron, who took me on as a client despite my injuries and my great love of sugar.
Here’s to feeling healthier — and, hopefully, feeling lighter — another month from now.
Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
The theme of this week’s post: pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.
Of Exercise and Embarrassment
I was working out with Pattie rather than Amalia, and I really wanted to impress her. She’s just as cool and as awesome a trainer as Amalia is, but I’d never worked out with her before, so I wanted to leave a fantastic impression.
The good news is that the bar didn’t leave an impression on the floor or my body — just my psyche. The clattering was unreal, but I was fine. I didn’t hide out in the towel bin, nor did I get any bruises on my arms or legs. My face bright red as Pattie asked if I was okay, I just picked the bar up and kept going.
I hate being embarrassed, though. I know few people actually enjoy the emotion; but it’s just behind physical pain for me. Shame is so unbearable.
Over the last week, a few friends have told me, “You’re so brave for writing about your exercise and weight loss.” That surprised me. When I started the “Health, Yeah!” series, I didn’t feel brave — I just felt like the experiment couldn’t go wrong. Surely I was going to lose some weight. Surely I was going to get stronger. There would be nothing to be embarrassed about.
And yet, here I am, still vaulting between 164 and 164.5 on the scale. So I’m pretty embarrassed now.
Before the Internet jumps all over me in a flurry of “I told you so”s, I’ll admit that:
- I’m still going over my daily caloric intake on My Fitness Pal. I’m supposed to have 1320 calories a day. But, in my defense, I used to be about 300-400 over a day. Two days ago, I was about 150 over; and yesterday, I was about 125 under (!). So, progress.
- I’m not hitting my Fitbit goals on days I don’t go to the gym (so, like 4-5 days a week). But more on that in a minute.
- Something something muscle gaining something muscle weighs more than fat something.
- I think my jeans are looser, but I’m not sure.
But this is a process, right? Things won’t be perfect in 30 days, but maybe they’ll be better, at least.
A Fine Line Between Struggle and Strain
One thing I am especially proud of, though: I’m not lifting that much more weight, but I have managed to keep my minor injuries under control. Every time my shoulder (or my elbow or my knee) hurts, I tell Amalia, and she comes up with exercises to keep me moving without stressing that area.
This morning, though, I had a strange flashback. I told her my shoulder was bugging me; and for a split second, I half expected her to say I was faking it. Which she would never do, because she’s 1) an incredibly nice person, 2) a professional, and 3) a good trainer who knows what she’s doing. But last night, David and I were reminiscing about elementary school; and while last night’s memories were mostly good, the bad memories started bobbing up this morning.
From first grade through eighth grade, every single P.E. coach I had hated me. I was overweight, out of shape, and borderline asthmatic. Oh, and we were in McAllen, where it’s frickin’ hot all the time; so I was overweight, out of shape, and borderline asthmatic in the heat. I panted and shuffled on runs. I’d struggle at sit-ups. When I’d plead for mercy, the coaches would roll their eyes and tell me I was faking it. And you don’t get called a liar for eight years without it staying in your head.
When I was in ninth grade, though, I joined the dance team. The instructor was the first coach I ever liked. She saw I was trying, she respected that, and she praised me for it. And I, in turn, tried even harder — and got better. A lot of the girls didn’t like her because she pushed us so hard. But she broke the spell of awful P.E. coaches for me. She showed me that I could be athletic (kind of). And she never, ever called me a liar.
A few years ago, I briefly went to a different trainer. A very nice person. I warned him about my knee and my lower back pain, both of which had been flaring up. He assured me we could work around them.
I remember our last session together: I was doing some kind of sit-ups with my shins leaning against something (these are all highly technical terms), and my lower back was really bothering me. I told him so.
“C’mon!” he encouraged me. “It’s okay! One more! You can do it! I know you can!”
I did one more sit-up, and the pain became so unbearable that I had to stop. I couldn’t go to the gym for a few weeks after that.
I say all that to say this: there’s a difference between discomfort and pain. Struggling is good; straining will injure you. If you want to get fit, you need to find that line. And don’t ever work out with anyone who doesn’t recognize it — or who tells you you’re faking it.
As I mentioned, I’m not quite hitting my daily Fitbit goals. My goal is to get 6,500 steps a day (I started at 6,000, exceeding that for a few days in a row, and got arrogant), and walk 2.5 miles a day (up from 2, but I still usually exceed that). What I’ve learned:
- The days I go to the gym or for a walk with friends, I easily exceed 6,500. Sometimes I even exceed 9,000 steps.
- The days I don’t go to the gym, I can get to around 5,000 or 6,000 steps as long as I do housework or some “Dance Dance Revolution.”
- The days I have to be at my computer (for freelance work, blogging, or writing), I barely break 3,000 or 4,000 steps.
So what have I learned from all that data?
The short answer is, I need to walk more on the days I don’t go to the gym. But when it gets hot and muggy outside (which is sure to happen soon), that’s going to seem less and less appealing.
David cooked a LOT last week, so we’ve been eating out for most of this week — which is dangerous for calorie counting. Then a friend reminded me about Freebirds’ Freedom Salads.
The thing is, I’ve gotten to this weird point in life where when I find something I like to eat, that’s all I want to eat for days without wanting something different. Strange, huh? It’s like I’m 6 years old again, only with vegetables in my diet.
So I’ve been chowing down on Freedom Steak salads. Parts of it are better for me than others, but it’s not as bad as it could be.
- Spring mix! Way better for you than iceberg lettuce (hurl).
- Black beans. Those are good for you, right?
- Steak. It would probably be healthier if it was vegetarian, but oh well.
- Queso fresco…which is cheese. But it’s not a lot of cheese!
- Avocado slices.
- Spanish rice.
- I DON’T CARE I’M NOT GIVING UP BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING.
But I’m not adding tortilla strips or croutons (hell, I don’t even know if Freebirds has croutons). So while it’s not exactly ideal food, it’s better than some.
I also saw this recipe for apricot oat bars in an Aetna e-newsletter, of all places. (Yes, I know it says Flik Grilled Salmon Teriyaki, but I assure you, it’s a recipe for apricot oat bars.) David made them and I grazed off the pan for three days. They’re quite tasty and, again, while probably not awesome for you, they’re a lot better than some alternatives.
Closing Thoughts for the Third Week
My last official “Health, Yeah!” post will be in one week; but even after the blog series is done, I’ll still be working on getting healthy. After all, this is a process, right? We all knew I wouldn’t be svelte with low cholesterol within 30 days.
Still, though, I wish I was making more progress. When I started working out in 2006, I was losing weight fast and furiously by the third week — and I was still eating Wendy’s and Lay’s Potato Chips on a nearly daily basis. I was also 28, though. And things change.
So I’ll go ever forward, trying to measure success where I can and trying to see the failures as opportunities for improvement. Even though that feels a little fake. Because it’s better to feel a little fake than a lot of despondency.
Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.