Friday, May 29, 2009

Yoo hoo! Has Anybody Seen My Sanity?

If you've spend any time in my kitchen at all, you likely have noticed the plethora of magnets adorned with pics from 50s-era advertisements. Lovely, wholesome women basking in the glow of motherhood and wifery (hey, ma, I coined a word!) As opposed to the cheery phrasing the ads most assuredly held 50+ years ago (from a real ad: "Look at the money my smart wife saved with Philco!"), the magnets are adorned with phrases like, "They're not looking, I could escape!" and "I'm one cocktail away from proving his mother right." My personal favorite--a lovely young miss, staring out of the confines of her magnet with a wistful expression, accompanied by the words, "Her greatest regret was not having more sex."

I'm sure you've seen these novelties in those trendy, self-consciously hip boutiques that feature $85 aprons and chick-lit novels with faintly sardonic titles like "Some Like it Haute." I love these silly magnets. Whenever I happen to glance at them (which occurs several times a day, given their location smack in the middle of the fridge door) I can't help but smile a little.  Their sentiment--and the juxtaposition of smily happy 50s wife with the sarcastic yet oddly cheerful 'tude of today--strikes a chord.

It sounds a little strange, summing up your life in a collection of sarcastic refrigerator magnets, but at this particular juncture of my existence, it feels right. I spend vast amounts of time simply trying to hold it together. Example? Tonight, after rushing around all day like the proverbial headless chicken, I found myself setting the table with dishes straight from the dishwasher. No big deal, right? I was placing the last fork next to the last plate when I realized the dishes hadn't been washed yet. But it gets better. For a second (actually more like 3 or 4) I considered just using them anyway. 

Mom of the year, right? 

I ended up not forcing the girls to eat off of last night's dishes. Luckily for them, there were still clean bowls in the cupboard. Yeah, eating steak out of a bowl isn't the way it's normally done, but at least they weren't consuming bits of left over sushi with their t-bone. Yeeewww...

I was done, though. With the girls, I mean, not the dishes. They weren't being particularly naughty. They were just being themselves--squealing, laughing, playing the perennial favorite dinner game "ocean" (wanna play ocean?--mouth opens, resplendent with masticated food--see?). I didn't yell, though. I didn't even raise my voice. I just folded my arms on the table and laid my head on them, waiting for the chaos around me to subside. 

And it was at this point I could have broken down into hysterical sobs (no, it wasn't just over the dishes thing, or even the exceedingly challenging day I'd had--late for every appointment, and every red light seemed bent on making me even later--I'm not a total martyr. Life is stressful right now on alot of levels, just like it is for everyone right now). My other choice was to just laugh it off. I've been blessed with the ability to laugh off most situations. It's usually pretty easy for me to just see the funny side of every situation. But tonight I just wanted to sit there at the kitchen table, the remains of dinner all around me, my head on my arms, and just feel sorry for me. You ever feel that way? I hate even admitting it...

But a strange thing happened. Suddenly, it got quiet. No just quiet, but eerily quiet, as if every living creature in the house had disappeared. Even the dogs ceaseless panting fell silent. I looked up and was met with two solemn-eyed little girls, watching me with a caution that was both sweet and amusing. I had a sudden realization. Had I yelled at their misbehavior, they likely would have continued it. Yelling mamas are easy to ignore, I've discovered. But utterly giving up was something they'd never seen before. My youngest gave me a big hug. My oldest did, too (crushing my pinky toe with her track shoe in the process). I smiled in spite of the pain from my protesting toe. My heart melted just a little as they squeezed me between them. We exchanged "I love you"s. Then they dashed upstairs, each trying to out-race the other to the shower. 

I'd love to say my mood instantly lifted. It didn't. But after they'd been tucked in (our nightly "Harry Potter" read aloud, prayers said--Nati saying hers while hanging upside down off the headboard of her bed but they still count, right?--and kisses doled out) I came downstairs to attack the load of laundry that waited for me on the couch like a giant lazy dog. With the majority of the day behind me, the house quiet at last, no more appointments to meet, no more red lights to fight, I was finally able to see the humor in the day. 

Those refrigerator magnets strike a chord because they are true. The image of the smiling mom/wife is what we present (or try to) the world. The flip comment underneath the picture is how we feel, but would never admit (except, perhaps, to our very closest friends after a couple glasses of wine). In any event, I can't possibly be the only person out there who feels this way--else, who is buying all those refrigerator magnets??


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Teaching a brick to fly...

Despite my best efforts thus far, the brick known as my business refuses to grow wings and fly.

In other words, I've been trying to launch a writing career. 

No, I am not one of those who thinks they have the "Great American Novel" buried somewhere in their imagination and need only to find the proper tools with which to dig it out. Perhaps in the heady and self-centered days of my youth I did--I distinctly remember telling my high school friends I would have a novel published by the age of 20. (snicker) As you can surmise from the fact my name appears no where on the best sellers list (or, for that matter, on Google) I never wrote that Great American Novel. 

That's okay, though. Over the years I've gotten some perspective on both my dream and my writing. I love to write. In fact, I do have several stories and even a completed novel hidden away. None of them are terribly good, but writing them was both cathartic and a lesson in reality. I like re-reading them and remembering who I was when I wrote them. Much of what I wrote was based on what I was going through at the time (the ones written in my mid-30's are about as full of upper-middle-class housewife angst as you can get--a fictional affair with an 18-year-old grocery store bag boy? Really? Yet my friends will remember the crazy crush I had on "Sancho the bag boy" at the local Vons when I was 35)

But one thing I was always really good at was public relations writing. During my 20s and earliest 30s, I worked for a variety of public relations agencies and companies as a PR and marketing freelance writer, creating brochures, news releases, white papers, corporate positioning papers, mission statements--you name it, and I wrote it. And I loved doing it. I loved the challenge of shaping an image out of words. I liked putting my clients' ideas into words that their target markets responded to. It was almost like not working. I made decent money, too: $50 - $75 an hour depending on the project. It was almost ideal (except during those dry spells with which every self-employed person is intimately familiar and, of course, at tax time).

So it was with these things in mind that in December 2008 I decided to re-start my PR and marketing writing business. I didn't imagine it would be that difficult--after all, when I did it in the 90s, getting clients was pretty easy. What I had forgotten was that at the time I started my writing business in the 90s, we were in the midst of the Internet Boom and anybody who could string three words together in a cohesive sentence could be hired as a PR writer. Well, maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. I was a good writer. But times were different, and there was more money around to hire people like me. 

So it was with a bit of over-confidence that I launched the current incarnation of my business, Kim Haman, Writer. I sent out dozens of letters, cards, and writing samples to businesses that were similar to the ones I'd worked for in the 90s--mid-sized companies with small marketing departments and PR and ad agencies that needed extra help. 

Ah, the brick.

My follow up calls revealed that 10 years is alot of time to be out of a business like mine. (Intellectually I had known that, but somehow I thought I'd be above the fray) Of the few people I was actually able to talk to (I'm assuming the rest were trying to spare me the humiliation of being told "No" in person, as opposed to just letting me draw the conclusion on my own), almost the first words out of their collective mouths were "What's your website address?" There were also unfamiliar terms like "SEO" and "Social Media Optimization" and "Keyword Stuffing." Huh? 

What a difference a decade makes! So I found myself not only back at square one, but actually less prepared when I'd been a 25-year-old with nothing but a little talent and alot of hutzpah. I realized I needed to study up on all that had changed in the corporate writing biz over the last 10 years. 

Despite my grumblings, I found much of it pretty interesting. I bought a couple books called "The Freelance Writer's Bible" by David Trottier and "The New Rules of Marketing & PR" by David Meerman Scott. These were amazingly helpful to me. These two books more than anything else I read or researched helped shape my business plan. My plan is to get back in the game sooner rather than later--although right now, I'm still the dorky kid waiting on the sidelines to be chosen for a team, praying I won't be subjected to the humiliation of being chosen last.

So that's what I mean when I compared building my business to teaching a brick to fly. It's not getting off the ground nearly at the speed or height I would have thought after working at it steadily for six months. Granted, the brick/fly thing probably isn't the most accurate analogy out there--after all, I do have a few clients right now, terrific small companies that have been gracious enough to give me the opportunity to help their businesses grow. It's just not going to be as easy as I thought it would be. 

See? You never stop learning. If it was too easy, I probably wouldn't appreciate it as much, just like in the 90s I just took for granted that the first prospect I called would hire me on the spot--because they usually did. This time, it's gonna take just a little more, like becoming much more Internet-savvy, launching a website (finishing it up this week: and figuring out what SEO means. 

And who knows? In years to come, the Great American Novel might squeak out of me. But for now, I'll be thrilled--more than thrilled--if Kim Haman, Writer stretches its wings and flies. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Makes Ya Wanna Run!

Today is the 2009 LA Marathon. 

When I opened my eyes this morning, I was instantly aware of two things: I was slightly hung-over from the four glasses of wine I'd had at a friend's welcome-to-summer party last night, and that my running shoes were lying in a small, dispirited heap next to my closet. I'd worn them to the track a couple days before--not for my own workout, but to watch my 9-year-old practice with her track team. My running shoes were a reproachful reminder to me that while I have a great deal of passion for track, marathons, and the sport of running in general, I haven't run a race since last September's Disney Half Marathon. It's been nearly 9 months. 

And the third thing to cross my mind as I slid out from beneath the covers of my warm bed into the chaos of the girls clamoring for pancakes outside my bedroom door ("Mommy, we're sooooo hungry!") was my friend Jackie. 

She's running the 2009 LA Marathon--and is likely still doing so right now, at 10:42 in the morning. Last year, we ran it together--we crossed the finish line with hands clasped at a solid if uninspired 4:52. The important thing was that we did it together.

I pictured Jackie now at the start line, bouncing on her heels to keep herself warm in the cool morning air, knowing she was feeling excitement and apprehension in equal measure. I selfishly hoped she missed me. I sent her good luck via mental express, and  went downstairs with the girls at my heels to make them breakfast.

It was only 6:37am (my children have absolutely no respect for Saturdays, holidays, or their mom's overindulgence in Cabernet) and I was feeling rather muddled. My husband, who'd just come in from a 6-mile run of his own (sick with a cold, hung over, going on 3 hours sleep--you name it--he never misses a run), asked me if I was going to watch the Marathon.  

Instantly I was awake and excited, the vestiges' of the half-hangover dissipating like smoke. He turned on the TV for me (why he has to turn it on is a long, frustrating and ultimately silly saga that has to do with my complete inability to work a universal remote) and found live coverage of the LA Marathon. The wheel chair racers were on their way and the elite runners had just begun their journey. The camera panned to the thousands of people waiting for the their turn to dash across the start line. I felt a moment of complete and utter envy that I was not there among them. In other circumstances, I know I would have been. 

I don't have a big dramatic back story to share of why I haven't run a race for so long. I injured my back last May (last May 25th, to be exact)  training for the 2008 San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. I had the goal of breaking 4:15. It was to have been my fourth marathon, (2 LAs, one previous Rock n Roll). My previous PR was 4:21:26. 

To many competitive runners, that's not an especially impressive PR. But to me, it was an amazing accomplishment. I'd spent a lifetime avoiding running just on general principal--it was boring, too hard, it made my boobs bounce and hit me in the eyes (okay, maybe not that). But I'd never been interested in it. I wasn't a particularity athletic girl. I was on the High School Drill Team for a while, and then a cheerleader, but back in the 80s (yes, I'm old) song and cheer was vastly different than the competitive juggernaut it is today. It was more about smiling, being enthusiastic, and knowing the difference between a offense cheer and a defense cheer. And luckily we had the Head Cheerleaders to tell us which cheers to perform, because honestly, not being particularly knowledgeable about football or basketball (the two sports we cheered for) I would not have known the difference. 

So last year I decided I would best my amazing (in my eyes, anyway) achievement by hitting 4:15. If I could hit 4:15, I reckoned I would be a REAL runner, someone who had taken the leap from recreational runner to someone who really had what it took to be a winner (I know, I know). So I completed a 21 mile training run--ignoring the entire time the small but nagging twinge in my back. In fact, I pushed myself even harder that training run than I ever had before, leaving my running companions far behind me in a dash down Taft Ave. that left me feeling exhilarated and a bit smug. (yes, karma is on it's way...)

The next day, I went to a weight training class with a friend, figuring that weight training was an important component to running that I couldn't bypass. I remember hearing the crunch in my back when I lifted a weight--and the sharp, stabbing pain that went with it. I mentioned to my friend in an off-hand manner, hoping she didn't think I was using the aching throb in my back as an excuse not to lift weights. I gritted my teeth through the pain, mentally calling myself a woos/wus (?? spell?? I've never figured out how to spell that word). I was also beginning to feel the first stab of panic--I had never felt anything quite like this in my back, and I was worried. The San Diego Marathon was just 10 days away. 

But, to my lasting chagrin, I wasn't done being an idiot. After my friend dropped me off at home, I decided that the metal decorative bench in the back yard JUST HAD to be moved. No tomorrow. And certainly not by my husband, though he is vastly stronger than I. So knowing that it was a mistake and determined to do it anyway, I tried moving the bench. 
You know that sound a stalk of celery makes when you break it in half? Yup. That sound. That was the sound I heard as I fell to the ground in agony only experienced in childbirth. I lay there, feeling like a doll with a broken back. Until that moment, I'd never really gotten it when people complained of bad backs. I'd always held people like that slightly in doubt--after all, it couldn't be that bad. Now I knew. I really knew. 

Eventually I made my way back to the house and then to the couch, where I remained in various stages of agony for the next few days. I finally made it to the doctor, who clucked her tongue at me for abusing my body to such a degree. She ordered x-rays and sure enough, I had a slipped disc. Not bad (although with my level of pain I thought for sure she would have found my back full of slivers of broken glass) and definitely heal-able. She laughed in amusement when I asked her if I could still run the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

Thus started a regiment of physical therapy that really worked--or seemed to , until I jumped the gun on my healing and ran in the Disney Half Marathon last year. Two karmic punishments resulted from my completely ignoring my PT's advice not to run quite yet: my IPOD broke at mile two (I'd never run a race without my music and found the experience boring and grueling), and I ended the race back at square one with my physical therapy. Yup.

So I was much smarter this time. At the end of several months, my PT declared me as good as I was gonna get (lucky for me, my injury did not necessitate surgery) and said I could try training for a 1/2 marathon again, albeit slowly and with great care. She wasn't overjoyed with my determination to run another 1/2 marathon, urging me instead to try a few 10ks. 

But a funny thing happened when my therapy was finally over. Even given the green light to train, I just haven't done it. I've been going to the gym regularly (I've even lost a few pounds) but I hadn't been able to get up the gumption to train for a long run. The longest I've gone since March was 4 miles--the resulting back pain was mild but it was enough to freak me out. In a last ditch effort to inspire myself to "get back on the horse" as it were, I paid my $120 (yikes! gulp! Holy crap!) entry fee to run in the 2009 Disney Half Marathon.   But I did that last week and I have yet to run 10 feet, much less started the training I'll need if I'm going to actually get my $120 worth. 

But this morning, watching with ever growing excitement in my heart as Kenyan Wesley Korir dashed past Russian Tatyana Petrova at mile 23 to claim the winner title in a race-busting record of 2:08:23, I found the inspiration I needed. And I ran--from the kitchen where I was preparing pancakes to the family room where the TV was so I wouldn't miss any of the marathon. The girls'  pancakes were alternately overcooked and underdone. For the first time ever I found myself wishing we had a TV in the kitchen. 

  Picturing myself with Jackie running last year, I suddenly knew that I would run in a race again. The excitement, the thrill, the amazing feeling of accomplishment I got from running those past marathons and half marathons (a total of seven events since January 2007) was not something I was willing to let slide away. 

So shortly following watching the winners break the ribbons, the girls begged to play with the Wii. (we have only one TV--yes, I know, that makes us a strange exception to the three-TV standard of most families) so I let them (they'd eaten their burned-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside pancakes without complaint and I figured the deserved a reward). I headed upstairs, where the unmade bed and lonely-looking pair of running shoes called to me. I put them on and snugged the laces.

I'm heading out for my run now--I'm going to take it slow--maybe the old 3.1 mile route I used to take when I only had a free 1/2 hour to run. And now it's 11:42 and Jackie should be coming up on mile 23, if my calculations are correct. I'll think about her as I'm running, try to shoot some mental energy her way. Because 23 is where the wall is, at least for me. And maybe, just maybe, as I'm finishing up my 3.1, she'll be running over the finish line herself, and in some small way, she and I will be finishing up our run  together after all. 

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