Skating, not skating, and learning to jump

Many times over the winter I almost quit figure skating.

I would go to a lesson and not practice.

I would practice and then push back an upcoming lesson.

I barely went to the rink hours for the MIT Figure Skating Club, of which I was an enthusiastic member last year and the year before.


In my head, I practiced quitting, crafting the excuse, and finding something new and safer to do, like tennis, which I played in high school.

I didn’t quit, although it seemed many times — when a week or even two weeks went by without skating — that I paused.

This was after a long year of being tired. Work seemed too hard, and it was tiring. I was always pushing myself to get it done in the time expected to meet important deadlines and not to let anything drop. I had pushed myself skating, taking the test and failing it. I joined the group fitness challenge at work, and for 12 weeks in a row I met the incrementally increasing time goals. The first week it was 150 minutes. By the end of 12 weeks, we were expected to be exercising and logging 300 minutes a week. A few of those weeks, I went beyond, and exercised almost 500 minutes.

I was proud. I was tired. I felt as if I stopped I would lose ground.

During my summer vacation from teaching last year I worked as a grant writer for a nonprofit organization. I really liked the work and was successful at it. However, my life had little free time. I longed to sit on the couch and do nothing. I longed for an absence. My friend Jessie looks at this as a presence and calls it “rest.” I couldn’t. (I mean, I dreamed of rest, but the list of stuff to do called more loudly than the couch did.)

Last summer, I also took weekly skating lessons, but there was not enough time to practice in between. Yeah, I felt bad. Bad student. Not doing enough homework. But I kept going, half keeping skating alive.

I made no progress. It was like a review, remedial, over and over and over. The teacher was very nice and smart, yet I felt discouraged. I had hit the brick wall of my own ability. There is the reckoning that comes when you realize, and only adults over 40 can realize this, that it is not all onward and upward. There are limits. There may be back falls. There are ends. Continue reading

Art and method of the interview


Maura Flanagan

Recently, I published a two-part interview on ASweetLife with Maura Flanagan, a college classmate who radically changed her health habits and lost 100 pounds after a diagnosis with Type 2 diabetes. Read part one here and part two here.

These are my favorite kinds of stories to do. Interviews are akin to making one’s self a student of the subject. I ask in order to learn, and not to pruriently find out.

It takes both preparation and improvisation to conduct a good interview. As a teacher/scholar, when I’ve conducted studies on a teaching or learning question of interest, I usually incorporate an interview part. I really enjoy these kinds of engagements with people. And, whether the interview is for an online magazine or a research study, my method is similar. I describe it below, for other writers to consider as they develop their own practice as interviewers. At the end, as evidence that the method works, I quote Maura as to her experience.

Continue reading

You say editor; I say writer

Health Axioms, cover image, as poster

Health Axioms, cover image, as poster

With my MIT friend and colleague Juhan Sonin (a founder of Involution Studio Boston and, like me, an instructor on MIT’s 2.009 product design capstone course), I have been working on the text for Health Axioms, a beautifully illustrated set of cards that conveys health knowledge and preaches action. After almost a year, the project is coming to a finish. I’m so excited! The art, text, and package are smart.

Two weeks ago, I went to Invo’s fourth-floor studio in Arlington Center for a review meeting with the team, which includes artist Sarah Kaiser and Juhan’s colleague Harry Sleeper.  Propped on the final stair landing was a full-size poster of the package cover (see image). Around the studio hung more poster-sized images of individual cards. I suddenly pictured these in doctor’s offices and clinic waiting rooms. I imagined people inspired to move more, eat better, meditate, seek comfort, find happiness, and track data as a result of sifting through the cards.

It’s great to be on an effective team and produce a high-quality product. At the end of the meeting, Juhan wondered aloud if it really takes about a year to design and develop something good or, if we all had concentrated on it full time, could we have pulled it together in a month?  Knowing myself, I’d say the year was necessary. But high-energy quick thinkers might be as effective under a tighter time constraint. This much is true for all of us: quality work takes REVISION. Designers, you might call this iteration. No matter the time frame, a good product evolves over many versions. (And the first one sucks.) Continue reading

That’s not me, or is it?

clinic comfort station

clinic comfort station

For several years, I have periodically visited a hospital clinic to see a specialist about my anemia. The clinic — Hematology/Oncology — mainly treats very sick people. As I have waited in the waiting room, mentally I have set myself apart. “That’s not me,” I have thought with willed conviction, seeing a person in a wheel chair across from me or hearing another person’s muffled crying in the alcove where they take our vital signs. (An essay I wrote on a moment in this waiting room, where I witnessed a doctor ask his patient to dance, is published here: link.)

I was there again in this clinic a few weeks ago, on a Wednesday after lunch. Typically, the mood is subdued. It’s a very serious place. This time, though, the emotional container seemed to have burst. As I stood at the check-in desk, a woman ran into the waiting room from the adjacent treatment area, sobbing and calling for a doctor by name.  Couples came in holding hands tenderly. I saw a woman, about my age and very thin, shuffle in. As she leaned on the check-in desk to state her name, her white tshirt clung to her trunk and I could see that her abdomen was the site of large tumors. She and her husband sat near me. They murmured together, about the tumors. He was a very good helper: he listened, he placed his hand on her back for a little while and then removed it (so as not to tire her out being helped, I thought), and he did not take over.

I tried, as usual, to stay detached, to think of myself as not that sick and therefore not of them. But I couldn’t hold the pose. What was it about this day? The chemistry of it, perhaps. My thoughts went in a different direction than usual, more stark. I ruminated on sickness and health not as a binary but as a continuum. We are all on it, and our position on the continuum changes as we go through life. And maybe we can find ourselves occupying two points at a time on this continuum. For example, although I have diabetes as a diagnosis (and it is a disease), I take care of myself and identify myself as a healthy person.

Maybe it would be better to give in, I sometimes wonder. On this day, I did for some reason feel vulnerable as I sat in chairs, waiting. “We are all sick, or will be someday,” I mused. It turns out, although I could not have predicted it, that my body is not quite as I thought: link. I do belong, not to the cancer club, but to the human one.

waiting for patients

waiting for patients

The tortoise wins her race

I didn’t win the race; I won my race.

Lydia and I ran the B.A.A. 5K along with 6,000+ other runners, our second race this year and my second race ever.  On the train ride back to our car at 9:30am, having done what we each set out to do — Lydia improved her time and I ran the whole route without walking — Jimmy asked me if this race felt different than the first.

Yes, it did.

Before the race, Jane and Lydia contemplate the finish line.

I enjoyed this race more. There was only one hilly patch (near the State House), and my mental resources therefore were not focused on the stamina and positive self-talk needed to get up yet another one of the several hills in the South Boston 5K. My mind was free to think other thoughts.

After the start and as we were trotting up Boylston Street, I noticed a lot of women running past me in lululemon tanks with the ruffle down the back and several sporting lululemon running skirts.  What, by the way, is up with skirts on runners? Do they hide something? Does wearing one communicate a dichotomy in identity? I’m pretty; I’m strong. What’s wrong with simply I’m strong?

Lineup gathers on Boylston Street in front of the Boston Public Library.

Speaking of sartorial runners, before Lydia surged ahead I pointed her attention to another mother-and-daughter pair near us who were in full makeup, foundation included, with hair carefully blown dry.

All those overt beauties ran past me along with many other runners who were fast starters. My ego felt vulnerable in the first few blocks. I was determined to pace myself, and yet it’s a little disheartening to be passed by just about everyone. I had a talk with myself and bolstered the self-esteem. Continue reading

Not a runner, here I am running

On Sunday March 18, Lydia and I ran our first 5K, the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Road Race. The distance is modest in number, but it feels monumental as an accomplishment, and I wrote about it for my other blog on A Sweet Life: link. See Jane run! See others, like this fellow with his dog, run too.

Man with dog crosses finish line, South Boston, March 18

Beyond finding out that I can run for 3.1 miles, hills included, I experienced something else worth knowing that can help me with other things in my life I want to do (like writing and skating): habits are motivated by a goal.  Lydia and I spent several weeks plodding along with regularity, but our interest in and commitment to running really picked up when we registered for the race. Our habits suddenly had purpose.

The day after the race we ran again, and Lydia took us on a new route. She increased our distance by ten percent. Neither of us really felt like running — didn’t we deserve a rest? a treat? — but we did. In four weeks, on April 15, we have another 5K in Boston.

Image credit: Jimmy Guterman