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Laura e. Crook

Training: Week 1 (also known as “I hate my legs and my legs hate me”)

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Up until now, I wasn’t really a “runner.” I had the idea, I had the shoes, but I hadn’t actually been for a run in about nine years (not since my ill-fated season playing softball my freshman year of high school).

Now I’m officially a runner. It still feels wrong to call myself a runner (runners are tall, remember? And svelte. And probably blonde, let’s be honest). I’m afraid to say “I’m a runner” and watch someone look me up and down, cataloguing my round, non-aerodynamic body and laugh. I’ve decided to phrase it as “I’m training for a half marathon.” It seems to manage everyones expectations nicely.

Elspeth and I are following a Couch to 5k program (with a free app from App Store!), which is designed for people like me, who want to start running but don’t have the endurance to follow a more rigorous training program.

It’s simple, but it’s not quite as easy as I thought. We run three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the ungodly hour of six in  the morning), for 30 minutes a day. We alternate walking for 60 seconds and running for 90 seconds, with a warm up and cool down period at the start and finish of the entire workout. Then we stretch in our respective apartments.

Day one was not as bad as I thought it would be. I got a cramp in my lungs, but Elspeth helped me stretch it out and regulate  my breathing. We ran down to the lake, which was gorgeous and still and wonderful.

Day two was a little more difficult. I got a lung cramp again (curse you, uneven breathing!) and a blister that was forming on my heel was starting to really bother me. I soldiered through, but I would run for short bursts and then (oh sweet relief!) drop to a leisurely walk when the friendly female voice told me to start walking. Elspeth let that slide, but on day three, she was having none of it.

Day three was, ironically, the worst day this week. Fridays are difficult for me anyway, because by Thursday evening my poor, introverted self is wiped out from 32 hours of activity from work (and maybe 3-5 hours of activity with friends), and I still have to slog through 8 more hours before I’m free for the weekend.

I was sore, I was tired, my  feet hurt, it was six am, I didn’t want to go to work, and I had foolishly sliced the pad of my hand open a couple days ago on a nailhead sticking out of my wall. In short, I was ornery, and I didn’t want to push my body any more than I had already been pushing it. Much to my chagrin, Elspeth picked Friday to turn into a boot camp leader worthy of our former roommate (and fitness instructor) Victoria.

Instead of matching my pace when I dropped down to a walk, Elspeth started walking briskly. I lagged behind a bit, until she (gently, because she’s a gentle person) said “you should walk a little faster so your heart rate won’t drop”

She was right. I knew she was right. I didn’t like that she was right.

I tried, I really did, but I was feeling like a grouch, so I started whining. Whining about my heel, about the cut on my hand, about how I hate Fridays and I was tired. Elspeth listened calmly, and told me that when she and her husband Zach took a boot camp class with Victoria (as a wedding present a couple months before they were married), Victoria told Elspeth that she could say anything–anything she wanted–to Victoria, except “I quit.” Elspeth said that she cursed Victoria out (which is something I have a hard time picturing, as I’ve known Elspeth for 14 years and think I’ve heard her say about 10 swear words in that entire time).

I felt horrible, because those two evil little words had been poking into my mind: “I quit.” I may have spent $150 bucks on shoes, I may have told nearly everyone I know that I was training for a half marathon, but that Friday I wanted to quit… until Elspeth told me that she would refuse to accept that.

I knew running would be hard. I knew it would require sacrifices of my time, money, and habits. What I didn’t realize was how many people I have rooting for me–people who are proud that I’m training for a race, people who won’t just quietly accept “I quit.” People who love me.

I think it’s that, more than the cost of my shoes, that will keep me going.

The Wide World of Running Shoes

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I’m gonna be honest: I kind of assumed that shopping for running shoes would be, well, kind of straightforward. Go to the Nike store, find a pair of size 8 shoes with good arch support, pay a ridiculous amount of money for them, go home.

Wow, was I ever wrong.

With Elspeth’s guidance, we went to Fleet Feet in Old Town, where I had the most thorough shoe buying experience of my life. The sales dude pulled out one of those foot measurement tool things I haven’t seen since I was six years old and my mom took me to get those sneakers with the lights in the sole.

The sales dude (Cole) had me stand on one foot, bounce on one leg, run on a treadmill and walk up and down a hallway, all to gage how I walk and run.

I learned that I’m a midfoot striker (which is apparently very efficient) and my ankles stay straight when I hit the ground instead of over supinating (or over pronating), which means I don’t need a shoe that supports my ankles.

Cole brought out three shoe types, and I dutifully tried them on, but only one felt like it was made for me: the Newton Distance.

Look at them. Aren’t they beautiful? (They only came in one color)

They have lugs on the bottom for shock support, the squared-off toes have space for my toes, the fabric is breathable and they make me feel like I’m floating.

As a curvy runner, I need all the gravity-boosting help I can get.

How to Become a Runner—Step 1: Run.

So here’s the thing. If you asked me 10 years ago (or five years ago or three months ago) if I would ever consider running, I would have laughed. A lot. I’m out of shape, I’m overweight, and I have a hard enough time finding bras that fit my busty form for everyday wear, let alone something that would hold up against a three mile run (or even a marathon!). Runners are six feet tall and svelte, not 5’3″ and curvy (on a good day) or rotund (on a bad one).

I never even considered the possibility that running is about training.
Running is about persevering.
Running is about persistence.

In a way, it was all my best friend Elspeth’s fault. She started training for the Chicago Marathon last January (and finished the marathon a week ago!) to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Elspeth has always been an athletic person, but I never thought of her as athletic, because we never did athletic things together, because the extent of my athleticism was playing softball for one season my freshman year of high school.

Seeing this person I had known since I was nine years old transform herself into someone who could run 26.2 miles (without collapsing like poor Pheidippides) was unreal and really, really cool.

All of a sudden, I wanted to do it too.

I chose the name “curvaceous runner” because of something Elspeth said: that even when I lose weight (as I’m planning to do while running), I’ll always be curvy.

Because let’s face it: runners aren’t all six feet tall and svelte.

I’m gainfully employed! (With, like, a cubicle and everything!)

I have a 9-5 job. Weird, huh?

You know what’s even weirder? I’m a copywriter. For the rest of my life, I can say “my first real job out of college was as a copywriter.” (You know, once I got tired of working for free in California). I feel unbelievably blessed.

(And I don’t have a cubicle, but I do have a desk! I decorated it with a small picture of Mr. Darcy and a Kate Beaton comic, because why not?)

I got to trot out my new title a couple of days ago while I was hanging out with some friends. I met a new person, and we did the usual “getting to know you” chit chat–where do you live, where did you go to school, what do you do for a living–and I got to say “well, I’m a copywriter for a small company that plans field trips for grade school students.” I’m getting better and better at succinctly describing what I do.

When I was 18, I would probably have classified my new job as “selling out.” but if I’ve learned one thing in the year and a half since I graduated college, it’s that, well, selling out is deeply subjective. I know lots of people who would hate the 9 to 5 grind of an office job–it goes with the territory of being (and spending time with) creative people. We have needs, you see. Creative needs that don’t adhere to schedules or deadlines or pay periods or lunch hours.

But that’s where being a writer is different from being, say, a designer or a painter or a musician. We like deadlines (well, we’re trained to like deadlines). If you google “tips for writers,” I can guarantee that at least 60% of the advice you find is geared towards making deadlines for yourself. (20% is probably along the lines of “just keep writing even if it’s horrible,” 15% is probably “read voraciously” and 5% is “develop a manageable alcohol problem because if it worked for Hemingway it’ll probably work for you”)

Even so, my 18 year old self would have scoffed (politely, of course, because I’m usually polite) at the idea of sitting in an office 40 hours a week walking the same copy deck around the office getting approval for five emails that will be sent to 10,000 people and actually read by 2,000, and even then 800 of them will skim it.

That 18 year old self was the same person who dropped her Intro to Advertising class two weeks into the semester because advertising was “manipulative” and apparently I was kind of pretentious when I was eighteen.

But that’s where the subjectivity comes in. I know people who work three jobs to support their dream career–who bust their ass as assistants to difficult people, who wait tables or tend bar to augment a $20,000 a year salary in Los Angeles–a city where it costs $30,000 a year to scrape by, and $40,000 a year if you want to really thrive.

But if I don’t want to do that. I want to pay my bills and write my novel and hang out with my friends and push through my depression and go to church and watch television and read new books and read old books and live. I don’t want to struggle. I struggled through high school, I struggled through college, I struggled through my year in Los Angeles. I think I’ve earned a year or two of a set schedule and a steady salary, and I can’t even describe how blessed I am to have a full-time job that provides me with both.

A clouded mind (and a clear voice)

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Sometimes I get a little overexcited. In the good way (which my coworker commented on earlier when I earnestly told another coworker that the law of diminishing comedic returns did, in my opinion, apply to the number of Bigfoot mentions per episode in The Newsroom), but also in a bad way. Sometimes I let my emotions (and my anxiety, and the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that lurk in the back of a depressive mind) run away with me until all I can think is “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”

Let me back up.

At my internship I’m paid as an independent contractor, which means my employer doesn’t take out my taxes; I do it myself. I also pay both the employer and employee taxes (and because of this I get a deduction). Independent contractors have the choice to pay their income tax in small amounts four times a year (quarterly) or in one big amount on April 15th with everyone else.

This is a totally valid method of payment, especially for a temporary employee like an intern. Unfortunately it makes life a little complicated.

When I lived in Los Angeles I worked part-time as a personal assistant’s assistant (only in LA, let me tell you), where I was also paid as an independent contractor. This kind of bit me in the ass in the spring because I foolishly disregarded my mother’s advice to set aside a percentage of every paycheck to, you know, pay my taxes, so I owed the government a lot more than I was expecting. So this time around, I decided that I was going to be an adult and set aside the tax so I wouldn’t blow it all on books and soda or whatever I spend my money on (pretty much just those two things).

Here’s the thing about being an adult: it’s kind of stupid. And I don’t even have a house or a husband or a kid or anything, so God only knows how I’m going to survive the next 70 to 80 years of my life. My problem was that I a) didn’t really understand how the estimated taxes worked, no matter how often my dad tried to explain them to me and b) whenever I tried to figure it out it would trigger a panic attack. So there I was, trying to be all responsible and simultaneously annoying my parents (who know as much about quarterly taxes and 1099s as I do) and making myself sick while I was doing it.

But tonight was a Friday, and I had a pretty solid week, and I was excited about seeing some friends tomorrow and I had good news to tell my therapist, so I figured… why not tackle my taxes tonight? So I did.

The first thing I learned is that the next quarterly payment is due in 10 days. The next thing I learned is that even if you take the lines one at a time there will always be a section of weirdly worded legalese that will trip you up. There were a couple isolated crying moments, a lot of swearing when my (borrowed) internet crapped out, one full-fledged panic attack, a half-written stream-of-consciousness email to my dad (I wanted to call him, but it’s late in Massachusetts, so I treated a blank message in my mail client like my father to try to work through some confusion. It was… actually surprisingly helpful). Then came a moment of pure joy when I realized that my mother is in Oregon with my sister (and thus in a time zone where it’s 7:30 pm!) so I called her.

To her credit, she was a great help. Especially for someone who has never filed estimated or quarterly taxes. She listened to me sob and choke out my issues and then she calmly said, “Laura. It’s estimated.”

“I KNOW,” I wailed. “But is it what I’ve been paid so far or what I’m probably going to get paid by the end of the year?”

“Just do what you’ve been paid so far.”

“But they want to know my required annual payment based on last year’s tax and I looked it up online and it said it would give me step by step instructions but all it gave me was an example and there were so many numbers and it really confused me!”

At this point I stopped to take a (deep, shuddering) breath, trying to stave off another panic attack, and my mom’s calm (slightly frustrated voice) broke through everything.

“Laura, it doesn’t matter how much you pay them. Either you pay them too much now and they’ll give you a deduction or you’ll pay too little and you’ll owe some more in April.”

It sounded way too easy. After all there was the work sheet! And the forms! And line 10 subtracted from line 8 and multiplied by 92.35%! My mother calmly assured me that the worksheet was just a worksheet, and that the IRS had no use for it.

You guys, it was like a light went on in my mind. I could give them five bucks (I won’t) and they would just credit it to my tax account and then in April they would just send me a bill (so to speak) for 295 bucks (or whatever I owed based on my 1099).

The IRS didn’t want rocket science. They just wanted money. Like a deposit.

So the moral of the story is that sometimes you just need to take a step back (or five) and call your mom (which is the moral of every story) and that when you get down to it all the IRS wants is money–the paperwork is just a side bonus.

Whedon Wednesday: Darla

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This child, Angel. It’s the one good thing we did together.  The only good thing. You make sure to tell him that.

Darla is one of the strangest, most polarizing characters in the Buffyverse. She was introduced as a heartless, bloodthirsty vampire–a creature who fed on humans without thought or remorse. She was a monster. She was beyond redemption, beyond saving.

Except… she wasn’t. Not in the end.

Darla had the most chances at life, and she made the most of it. Her first life ended in 1609, when the Master turned her into a vampire. Her second life ended almost 400 years later–staked in an empty night club by the closest thing to the love of her life. Her third life began in Los Angeles and ended when, slowly dying from syphilis, she was turned into a vampire again. Darla’s cat-like lives ended for good when she sacrificed herself to allow her infant son (an impossibility and a miracle!) to live.

Darla was, more than any other character in Angel, simply a pawn for the Powers That Be. She was recruited without her knowledge (or will) to become a major player in the coming apocalypse–by giving birth to the son she shared with Angel.

Darla lived (and died, and lived) for over 400 years, but the only selfless act she committed–the only good thing she ever did–was love her unborn son so much she gave her (undead) life for the chance that he could live.

It seems strange to classify a monster as one of the most loving and selfless characters in the Buffyverse, but after all: when you live on the Hellmouth, nothing is as it seems.

Five Things Friday: Addresses and Memories

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For this week’s Five Things Friday, I’m reposting a piece I wrote for Ramen, the lovely Caro’s zine. Enjoy!

5) Salem Street.
When I was five, my Dad joined the ranks of legend when he and I made homemade maple syrup. I got to pretend that I was Laura Ingalls Wilder when my dad drilled a hole in our maple tree and let the thin, clear, sweet sap fall into an empty milk jug. Dad poured the sap into a saucepan on our stove and heated it slowly. When the sap got thick and dark, my Dad poured it off into mason jars. The entire house smelled like crystallizing sugar.

4) Pleasant Street.
The day my family moved into the house on Pleasant Street was the day I met my best friend. I was in my new bedroom with my aunts, helping them organize my things. My mom called me to the staircase. When I poked my head over the railing, I saw an unfamiliar girl. She introduced herself as Liz, said she lived across the street and asked if I liked the movie Titanic. I said yes, because it was 1997 and Leonardo DiCaprio was all I could think about. In the simple way of nine-year-olds, we became best friends immediately.

3) Plymouth Court.
One night, toward the end of freshman year, my roommate (my 9 year-old bff Liz, who grew up to become Elspeth) and I came home to find the TV was missing from the dorm. It wasn’t stolen–it was just taken by our other two roommates, the girls assigned to us by residence life. The cold war that had been brewing all year came to a boil, but we didn’t let it bother us. We spent the night playing rowdy summer camp games and watching movies on our laptops.

2) Wells Street.
When I moved onto Wells Street, one of my roommates was an eight year-old sheepdog named Ellie. Like many sheepdogs, she didn’t have a tail, but that didn’t stop her from wagging her butt whenever I came home. She was the sweetest, friendliest, fattest dog I’ve ever met, and I loved her. She always met me at the front door–butt wiggling, ears perked up at the sound of my voice. It was the best mood lifter.

1) Alameda Avenue.
My roommate decided to make cupcakes. I wanted to make a dent in a bottle of whiskey. Together we learned that there are few things more enjoyable than tipsy baking. It’s easiest to use a boxed recipe (less margin for error). We drank, we frosted cupcakes, we found increasingly ridiculous things to put on top of them and we laughed about our teachers. I’d been in LA for three weeks, but this was the first time it felt like home.

Depression and Anxiety (they go together like rotten milk and moldy cereal)

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I promise I will take pictures of my apartment. I promise I promise I promise.

But first I want to give everyone an update as part of my new resolution to be 100% open and honest with everyone when it comes to the topic of my depression. And I thank the anonymous nature of the internet (even though I’m not anonymous) that makes me feel better about sharing parts of my life this way.

Many people know that depression and anxiety disorders often go hand-in-hand. And it sucks. It sucks a lot. When I moved back to Chicago (and during those last, tumultuous months in Los Angeles) I was worried that my depression symptoms (which had been dormant for a couple years, due to medication and talk therapy) were popping up again. I was crying, I was stressed, I kept having panic attacks and withdrawing from people. It was difficult to write, difficult to be social, occasionally difficult to sleep.

Soon after arriving in Chicago my mood stabilized… but my panic did not. I had roughly three panic attacks in a two week period, which was particularly stressful, because prior to that I had only had one or two in the past two years. It was starting to impact my internship, it was starting to impact the way I interacted with my new friends at church, and quite frankly I was sick and tired of it all.

Thanks to my mother’s suggestion, I had a therapist appointment lined up before I even got to Chicago. My therapist assessed my symptoms, and after a couple sessions she told me that she thought I was experiencing a great deal of social anxiety. She talked me though the symptoms–a persistent, intense, chronic fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by one’s own actions–and it made sense, in a weird way.

I can point to episodes of my life where I can say “yes, I was depressed. I felt like absolute shit and I wanted to die” and “no, I was not depressed. Life was wonderful and everything was shiny,” I honestly can’t remember a time I wasn’t preoccupied with social anxieties.

I used be afraid of getting a pedicure because I was 100% certain that the pedicure ladies would be so horrendously grossed out by my feet that they would gossip about me when I left. I hate going to the dentist because I thought he would judge me for my oral cleaning habits. I hate getting my haircut because I thought they would judge me for how I treat my hair, and also because I knew that I was “supposed to” make conversation with hair stylists, and I never knew what to say. I hate shopping, because sales people talk to me and look at me and I feel like I’m on display. I hate performing, I hate reading things out loud, I hate one-on-one conferences and above all, more than anything else, I hate the word “inappropriate,” because I feel like I’m being scolded.

Until I started having semi-regular panic attacks (for the strangest reasons–I got lost on my way to my internship and now I’m late; I accidentally unfolded this double-folded table cloth while setting up the alter at church; I don’t understand this work assignment), it never once occurred to me that those were strange habits to have, or that they, in some way, impacted my life negatively. I was able to muddle along and figure out life and it was okay that I was a little shy, because I was an introvert and many (though not all) introverts are shy. I thought it was just the way I was–the way life was–and that there was nothing I could do about it. Unlike my depression (where I could remember what it was like to feel genuinely happy, and thus I noticed when I felt soul-crushingly sad), I had no recent memories of a time 100%, totally, completely unaffected by social anxieties.

Needless to say I am very excited to work with my therapist on tackling some of these. We’ve outlines some short- and long-term goals, and we’re going to work on building up a de-sensitivity to social situations that cause me anxiety–starting with the least intense (reading out loud at Bible study), and work up to the more intense situations (attending a social event where I know very few people, or perhaps going on a date).

Throughout all of this, I can see God’s fingerprints on everything. I live in a neighborhood with many friends (including my best friend) within walking distance, and we travel places together (such as church or Bible study). This lowers the chances that I will back out of attending church every week, because I don’t have to walk in alone, and because I have a group of people who are expecting me to attend. My therapist is a Christian and works for a Christian clinic (which I found quite accidentally!). I live by myself, which creates a safe sanctuary where I can control the social situations, and a place for me to retreat when I need to recharge my batteries. In short: a place I know with all certainty that no one will judge me. My family is, and always has been, incredibly supportive.

So if I behave strangely–if I have to take several deep breaths or recite the L Red Line stops from Harrison to Morse; if I have to excuse myself or if I suddenly start stuttering and stop speaking; if I apologize for something that doesn’t need to be apologized for, or if I turn down an invitation to dinner or a party, it’s not personal. I promise I’m working on it.

Action Movie Heros Are Kind of Selfish Dicks

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Don’t tell me you haven’t thought of it before. You’re watching The Bourne Identity/ Total Recall/Die Hard/Batman/The Avengers, and the action hero (or heroes, in the case of The Avengers) embarks on a huge car chase/helicopter fight/gigantic fight with the big bad, and they totally demolish… well… everything. Cars, buildings, the occasional passers-by (I swear, the periphery body count in Total Recall was seriously tragic. All I could think is “aw, that poor guard!” I mean, there’s a difference between characters actively trying to end the world and characters who are just accepting a paycheck).

Don’t tell me you’ve never wondered how all those people explain the damage to their insurance companies. “Oh, I’m sorry, but my car was completely decimated because some dude went on a rager in a Mini Cooper down the streets of Zurich because he was simply trying to find his true identity.” Maybe Swiss insurance companies are more lenient, but how would they categorize that in the States? Act of God?

I love Jason Bourne. I love John McClane. My adoration for each and every member of the Avengers reaches epic, slightly unhealthy proportions. But come on. Who’s the sad sap stuck with the clean up?

Whedon Wednesday: Tara Maclay

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Your shirt…

The greatest tragedy of Tara’s death wasn’t that she was murdered. It wasn’t that she was killed by a man who was trying to kill her friend. It wasn’t that she was young, or that she was beautiful, or that she had so much more life to live. The greatest tragedy of Tara’s death was that she had only just reconciled with Willow.

Tara was the purest of all the characters on Buffy. She was kind and gentle and sweet, and in the end she was the only one who was never seduced by evil. Maybe that, more than anything else, meant she had to die. Maybe the inhabitants of Sunnydale can only live on the Hellmouth for so long until it takes over them completely. Maybe if Tara hadn’t been accidentally murdered by an evil man with a heart full of hate she would have turned evil, like Angel, like Buffy, like Willow herself.

Or maybe if Tara had lived she would have stayed pure, and kept Willow pure alongside her. Maybe if Tara had lived they would have saved the world, and moved to Scotland and raised magic sheep in the Highlands. Maybe they would have explored the world, the universe, the dimensions beyond, and return to Buffy when she needed them. Maybe they would have grown old together (always together), and raised cats like Miss Kitty Fantastico. Maybe they would become old witches, living together in a decrepit mansion on a small island where the neighborhood children wouldn’t be able to decide whether they’re afraid of the old witches or in awe of them (or perhaps a little bit of both).

And then, after they had saved the world more than anyone has ever saved the world (except perhaps Buffy), they would lie down together and depart for the next great adventure. And Tara would still have died in Willow’s arms, and she would still have died knowing what it was like to be loved, but it would be a kinder death, a gentler death, a sweeter death. A death to fit Tara herself.