Managing myself

As of yesterday, I’ve successfully written something every day in 2015. Sometimes it’s been a little, sometimes it’s been a lot, but it’s always been something. I’m pleased to be able to say that.

Unfortunately, all this sitting at my desk writing has resulted in a side effect: back pain. Something about the way I sit causes a soreness in my middle back on the right side. It almost feels like getting a stitch in my side, but on my back instead of my front. I’ve had this pain before. It makes it hurt to bend over or twist or carry things. When the pain suddenly flared up when I came home for lunch on Wednesday, I made two changes in response: I switched desk chairs at home, and I changed my desk at work to standing mode.

I worked the rest of Wednesday and then all of yesterday standing up, a day and a half, and it has in fact helped my back. It also made me feel very energetic for most of the workday yesterday. I told my coworkers that I felt “powerful”. I even did 20 standing pushups against the part of the desk that wasn’t raised, because why not?

I came home at lunch and wrote a tiny story, which is good, because I hadn’t written anything that morning. And then, when I got home last night, I was completely exhausted. I don’t know if standing up all day sapped me mentally, or if this week’s work, which has involved a lot of editing and providing feedback, has been more of a drain than usual. In any case, my brain didn’t seem to want to do anything. I couldn’t figure out what to do for dinner, let alone write. Worse, I kept feeling discouraging thoughts creeping in–that everything I have written and everything I’m trying to write is terrible, and that there’s no point to any of it. At about 6:30 I gave up on everything and went to bed, still wearing all my clothes.

Sean came in eventually and asked if I wanted to go to Sushi Huku, which I would normally love to do, but “I don’t feel like going anywhere,” I mumbled. He kissed me and left me alone, and I slept until midnight.

When I awoke, I got up, took a shower, and got into a t-shirt and yoga pants, my typical pajamas. Sean was asleep. I opened the fridge and discovered that he’d ordered pizza, which was a relief; I’d worried he hadn’t eaten anything. Then I teared up at the thought of having to feed both of us every day. It occurred to me that I probably hadn’t had enough rest yet. But I was still pretty awake, and I knew I probably needed protein too, so I made myself some hot dogs and got online to read for a couple hours. I didn’t try to write anything. I did try not to feel bad about that.

Around 3:30, I climbed back into bed and put on an episode of Welcome to Night Vale. Eventually I fell asleep, I guess around 4, meaning I got two more hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 6.

I think, I hope, that I am rested enough to get through today. At least I am able to recognize that the bad feelings I was having were due to being completely drained, and that I don’t have to feel that way.

It seems that after each sleep, I have a certain amount of energy. I’m not sure if I get the same amount each time. But I can certainly run out of it too soon if I’m not careful, and running out tends to plunge me into depression. I’m glad I recognize this and know what to do (go to bed, basically) when it happens.

Getting off oil

backed-up interstate traffic
Traffic. September 22, 2012, Atlanta. Copyright Heather Meadows

Occasionally I ponder whether or not the US will ever get off oil as its primary source of transportation fuel. In other words, whether we will trade our gas-burning cars for other  modes of transportation, like trains and subways for longer distances and walking and cycling for shorter ones. Electric cars are perhaps a more realistic possibility, given the way our current infrastructure grossly favors cars. To switch to electric cars, we wouldn’t need to redesign roads or add rail; we’d just need to convert existing gas stations to electric substations.

I got to thinking about this today thanks to my Twitter friend Ara posting a link to an article about world gas prices, which includes this intriguing paragraph:

The world’s most expensive gas, according to the survey, can be found in Norway, where drivers pay $10.12 for a gallon of premium gas. While the country has significant oil reserves of its own, instead of using the money to subsidize vehicle fuel it goes to fund social spending such as free college education and national infrastructure.

This made me wonder if we could subsidize the shift away from oil by stepping down our subsidization of it. According to a study by the Environmental Law Institute, the US spent approximately $72 billion from 2002 to 2006 subsidizing fossil fuels. Unfortunately, this figure isn’t broken out by type, so we can assume some of this money went to coal as well. If the move was targeted toward reducing oil use, I can’t imagine ending coal subsidies at the same time. Any replacement transportation, whether it be trains or electric cars, would depend on electricity, which in this country is largely generated through burning coal. (Of course, burning coal, another fossil fuel, has many health, environmental, and non-renewable resource issues, and eventually we’ll have to get off coal as well.)

The upshot is, I’m not sure how much money we’d be able to free up for infrastructure change. And then there’s the question of how much that change would cost. Going completely to a rail-based system would be extraordinarily expensive; entire cities would have to be redesigned. Sprawl has spaced everything out so much that it’s rare for someone to be able to walk or cycle to their nearest grocery store, let alone to work. City planners would either have to come up with ways to link neighborhoods to shopping centers or to redistribute commodities along communal travel routes.

It’s hard to imagine how this would play out in rural areas, where people drive ten, 20 or 40 minutes just to get into town. Obviously there wouldn’t be a rail system to those people’s distant houses. In that situation, it doesn’t seem possible to completely replace cars with mass transit. A friend once showed me an overhead view of farming communities in South America in which homes are built around a cul-de-sac and their farms radiate out around them. While this model clusters rural residents together and makes communal transportation more feasible, it would require completely redistributing people’s land, and it would also require a huge cultural shift away from our current farm style of houses planted in the middle of their acreage.

Each city, town, incorporated area, and unincorporated area would have to come up with its own plan to reduce oil consumption. I can’t see this happening on a broad scale without a federal mandate–after all, individual states also subsidize oil–but then there would need to be federal oversight. I expect the same states that oppose national health mandates would oppose national transit mandates, so any such movement would take years just to get started.

Without more information, I can’t say whether or not this sort of thing will ever happen in the US. But I do hope our elected officials are at least thinking about it. I’d love to see us get off oil, for diplomatic as well as environmental reasons.


Last Monday I jogged five kilometers without stopping. It was my first time ever doing that, and I was very pleased. I decided to try to run an actual 5K race that weekend, so I didn’t run again until Thursday. I ran a fair distance, but didn’t push myself; I didn’t want to overdo it before the race on Saturday.

The 5K didn’t go as I’d hoped. Part of the problem was the temperature; it was about 15 degrees warmer than I normally like it to be when I run, with no shade for the first 2/3 of the course and barely even a breeze. The terrain was also different from what I’m used to; I run on pavement in my neighborhood, and the Swamp Stomp course was dirt, grass, and gravel. Another problem, I think, was that I started out running too quickly. Having a huge mass of people pass you like you’re standing still can do that to you.

Regardless of what caused it, I ended up walking after barely completing the first half kilometer, and never got back into a good running pace. Mari was with me; fortunately she didn’t mind all the walking we ended up doing.

I was feeling a little dejected about the 5K when I went running Tuesday morning, and that may be why I felt so crappy. I may also have still been recovering from the 5K. Regardless, I felt like throwing up and my legs were dead weight–very sore dead weight. I barely managed to run at all.

Yesterday’s run was much better. I decided not to worry about distance, but instead focus on speed. It had occurred to me when checking my running times for the last week that sometimes I actually walk faster than I run. If I ever want to finish a 5K in under half an hour, I’m going to have to increase my speed. So I focused on that–not too crazy, just faster than I normally run–and went until I was out of juice. I felt really good afterwards, like I had accomplished something.

That brings us to this morning. I again worked on speed at first. I’ve also been thinking about my form, and trying to avoid landing on my heels. This emphasis on the balls of my feet has been making my calves feel the way they did when I first started running–like blocks of wood. My calves gave out long before my cardiovascular system did, which made me feel a little better about myself. I’d been starting to worry that I’d lost all the progress I’d made on heart health, especially given the way I was gasping for breath on Tuesday.

In any case, I ran until my calves simply could not go on. I wasn’t even winded and really wanted to continue. So I walked a little to give my legs a rest, and then ran again. I’m pretty pleased that I didn’t give up after the first run.

Going forward I’m going to focus once again on eating more properly. I’ve really let my eating habits slide the past several weeks, and the scale shows it. I’m all the way up to 251, meaning I’ve pretty much negated everything I did in 2008. I think rather than obsess about the weight, though, I’m going to focus on heart health. That’s what worked last time. I want my heart to be healthy so I can accomplish physical feats like running a 5K in under 30 minutes, rock climbing, doing pull-ups, etc. Maybe if I keep thinking about those things instead of the vague “lose weight” goal, I’ll have success again.

Since races give me tangible goals, I’m going to concentrate on speed and distance. With that in mind, I’m going to quit logging my warmups and cooldowns in RunKeeper and just record when I actually run. That will make it easier for me to see at a glance what I’m currently capable of.

I’m also going to start keeping track of how I feel after each run, through the Notes area on RunKeeper. Hopefully remembering the good running feelings will help me get through the bad days.