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Friday musings

Just a lot of miscellaneous thoughts that are junking up my brain today.

You know you’re a runner when .. it’s Boston Marathon weekend and three days before the race you start thinking about how exciting it would be to be in Boston right now. Even just as spectator or a volunteer. But you are glad, for once, that you’re not a truly competitive elite runner, because going into a race that big and important has to be one of the most anxiety-inducing experiences ever.

Marketing slogan that made me insane this week .. “Because places of profound beauty can’t stay hidden forever.” How about making it a little simpler: “Let’s take something beautiful and ruin it with a maddening crowd!” Sigh.

Want to laugh really hard? Watch this:

My favorite part is when he says “Listen ladies. Romance is deception.” Mr. President, you are a very smart man.

-Finished reading Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” I did not like that book. And I especially hated the ending. Oh, the depravity!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

My people

I used to carry my Fisher Price people around with me wherever I went. They were my village. Here we are in the bath:

peopleAs an adult, finding my people was a little more challenging. They didn’t line up for my attention quite so easily. My oldest friends are people I have known since high school and college. I made friends fairly easily at my many jobs and in the running community, but finding a group of people with whom I truly clicked in a big, dramatic, lightbulb-going-off-but-it’s-actually-a-firework-and-feels-like-a-transformer-just-exploded sort of way never happened until last year.

My people are awesome.

They are brilliant and kind and hilarious. They are fascinating, with backgrounds from around the world. (Some are boring Americans, just like me.) They are extremely hard workers, earning advanced degrees, starting businesses, traveling internationally, making scientific discoveries, creating better ways to do things, saving the environment, changing the way we look at the world. They put others before themselves. They have helped me see life, and happiness, in an entirely new way. I used to think that to be joyous would require a great love affair. It turns out that all it really takes is amazing friends – the kind of people who can make sitting on a couch at Restoration Hardware one of the best afternoons you’ve ever had. The kind of people who will show up at your doorstep with miso soup when you’re having an off night. The kind of people who help you with home improvement, encourage you to write a book, and get excited about chocolate pie. The kind of people who can make a boring triathlon volunteer assignment into three hours of pure hilarity.

This weekend I realized, with a sickening feeling, that some of my dear people may not be in Santa Barbara too much longer. They are grabbing new opportunities, heading out to do amazing things with their careers and their lives. This place isn’t meant to be their permanent home. I understand this and want them to be hugely successful and happy. That doesn’t mean I won’t miss the heck out of them – and shed more than a few tears –  when it is time for them to go. And in the meantime, every chance we have to hang around together is that much more significant.

I do wish I could put them in my pockets, like my Fisher Price people, and carry them around with me everywhere. But keeping them in my heart will have to do. My friends – please know that you have been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. No matter where we are, I hope I’ll still know you.






Everything is Meaningless – or is it?

everythingI got a text message from my friend Em today. She was concerned about the “Everything is Meaningless” image on my Facebook profile header. She wrote: “Etling what’s up with your post that everything is meaningless. That’s not like you!”

I replied, a little casually, “it’s Art!” and promised to tell her more when I see her next. But I wasn’t surprised by her reaction, because I know that running around espousing the belief that Everything is Meaningless is probably going to get me into trouble at some point.

Let’s see if I can write my way out of it.

First of all, the artist who created the print above is named Patrick Casey. Originally, it was a hand-painted woodcut. Now it’s a print, and I do not know how many of them exist. This one was bought for me by my brother Will and sister-in-law Abigail, and it hangs in my living room. They have the same print in their home in Echo Park.

The first time I saw their print I fell instantly in love with it. First, the imagery immediately drew me in. The colors and the texture, the loons and the canoe. Those who know me a little know that my family on my dad’s side came from Wisconsin (Brokaw) and Michigan (Detroit) by way of North Carolina, so this upper Midwestern woods experience runs in my blood. My grandmother’s parents had a little cabin at a place called Payment Lake. It was in the middle of a birch tree forest, with a tiny dock and an equally tiny rowboat to catch sunfish in. There were loons on the lake that cried haunted calls at night. A beaver dam blocked one end. We went there once, when I was about eight.  This is the first place I remember ever falling in love with. We caught fish, my great-grandmother cleaned them. We picked wild berries in the woods. My dad showed us how to make a (miniature) birch bark canoe. There was a faded red patterned camp tablecloth, stuck permanently to the table. It was real and perfect and felt like a place in a novel.

I have had many days in my life where I do believe fervently that everything is meaningless. Every day, I believe that every THING is meaningless. I have never wanted material possessions to define my life. Yes, I like having nice things and work hard for them.  But if you took them all away today, and I still had the love of my family and friends and the ability to write words well, and my people were all OK and not hurt or hungry, that would be fine. I have two strong legs and a brain. I could get from place to place somehow and figure out the rest – where to sleep, what to eat, how to live – day to day. It would be hard, but it could be done.

But if Everything is Meaningless, that means that nothing, not my hysterical laughing fits with my dear friends, not the hours of running on the beach, not falling in love, whether for the first time or the third or the next, means a damn thing. Right?

Maybe. That isn’t how I’ve worked it out in my head. One day in Kings Canyon a long time ago my mother said to my father: “What do you believe in? I don’t believe in anything.”

And my father replied: “I believe in you.”

This so perfectly defines my parents and it is this pivotal moment that has a lot to do with who I am.

Yesterday on my run at 6 a.m. there were two people sleeping on the edge of the Coal Oil Point bluff top in sleeping bags. They looked so peaceful. Their heads were tilted towards each other, and they were fast asleep, out in the open air. The waves were crashing on the beach beneath them.  It was a moment. It immediately became a memory. It was everything, it was meaningless, yet it affected me profoundly. For that one second, all I could see was two people trusting each other and the world not to hurt them, and nothing else mattered.

20 years running

“When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. This is a part of my day I can’t do without.”
Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Yesterday while I was running in Hope Ranch with my friends after work, I was doing some mental mathematics and realized that I have now been running consistently for 20 years.

I started running when I was in junior high school. I had never played a sport ever in my life, was never picked for teams until next to last in Phys. Ed. Running came about because it seemed like it was the only thing I could do that was athletic that didn’t involve jumping, catching, throwing, or bats, balls, water or racquets. Of course, I could have been a swimmer, but that would have involved being in a bathing suit around other kids, and therefore it was simply NOT an option. I can’t tell you how frightened I was to have to go swimming in high school PE. There have been few things in this life that traumatized me more.

My parents were runners, simply for the health benefits of a short run (2 miles max) a few times a week. We lived in a pretty place and they were young and athletic, so why not? They’d both run a couple of miles maybe three days a week. I remember being very impressed with my parents about this. I didn’t know many other kids, but I had a feeling that not too many peoples’ parents were out running.

Of course, I didn’t start to train consistently until my freshman year of high school, when I joined the track team. I would have just turned 15 that March. I remember feeling like such an imposter when I went to that first track team meeting. All these kids had done sports before, and I literally did not know how to act or what to say. That probably meant I didn’t say much. I remember being traumatized by the whole experience, because they wanted the freshmen to try different track and field events to see what we might be good at and want to compete in. I remember my dad picking me up, and telling him that I just wanted to run and maybe I should quit, because these field events were stupid and I wasn’t going to be any good at them. He encouraged me to go back the next day. And it must have gotten better after that, because I never wanted to quit ever again. So thanks Dad. That was good parenting.

It’s a very conservative estimate to say that over my running lifetime I have averaged around 30 miles a week. It’s probably closer to 35. But for the sake of the leaner early years, before I discovered long runs and half-marathons, we’ll say 30 miles a week for 52 weeks a year for 20 years. So that means I have run upwards of 31,000 miles to date. That’s a lot. I figure I can double that before I turn 60. 60,000 miles by 60. Seems like a pretty good goal. Only 40 more years of running to go.

Well, shoot, chicken suit

Just found out I won my age group in last weekend’s Race for Preservation 10K in Savannah, Georgia, which started at Forsyth Park in the center of the city and took us over train tracks and through historic homes. Guess I should have checked those race results before I left the state!

I ran slow, and got beat by a guy in a chicken suit. Here’s a picture of him.


Being beat by a guy wearing a chicken suit is demoralizing. There’s just no way around it. It was raining before and during the race, and the chicken suit must have been heavy and soggy. Good job, Chicken Suit Guy! You have earned my respect and admiration. I will take people in poultry themed attire far more seriously from now on.

They had some pretty cool awards for this race, made out of old pieces of wood. Check them out:



I was getting pretty bummed out that I was not hauling one of these truly unique awards home through the Charlotte and Phoenix airports, so I called the Trust for Historic Preservation to see if they could ship my award to me. They informed me that my Running USA colleague Peter Maksimow, the overall winner of the 10K, had already picked it up for me! Cool surprise times two. Thanks Peter! Our colleague Nancy Hobbs was second overall in the women’s 5K.

Some of our Running USA attendees ran in inch-an-hour downpour (with tornado sirens, too) on Tuesday morning. Say what you will about runners – we’re all a little bit crazy, whether we are wearing chicken suits or not.

It’s Friday, and this is how I feel about the world



Thanks, Snick, you conveyed that a lot more effectively than I possibly could have myself. Photo of Snickers the Wonder Dog by Will Etling, image copyright 2012 reused with permission. That’s her sister Andy’s tail sticking out on the right.

Why are these running shoes so ugly?

Here’s an incongruity. I’ve been running for the last 18 years on a near-daily basis. It’s only the last 18 months that I’ve given a damn about what color my shoes are.

Maybe it’s a peculiarity of aging, to be more picky about such things. It could be directly related to my full time job, in which I work on a team that includes some exceptionally talented and color-savvy graphic designers. On this team, I have acquired some mild notoriety for wearing cool shoes.

So when I made my last few decisions about what running trainers to buy, I cringed. The shoes I was ordering by rote were ASICS Gel Kayanos, which I have been wearing since their very first edition. Version 19 was just released this year, so my allegiance to the model and brand is exactly aligned with my running history. They fit, they feel great, and I enjoy running in them. These are all important things.

But for the last few editions, the colors are WRONG. And the 19th release of the shoe takes this to a whole new level. I think these metallic-accented monstrosities look like something that my Jazzercise Barbie would have worn with her leg warmers and belted unitard back in 1984.

Here’s the photographic proof:

Gel-Kayano 19 - Black/white/flash pink

In other words, YUCK. I know a lot of runners. I can’t think of a single one who would be excited about the look of these shoes. Meanwhile, designers for Skechers and Nike have been coming out with really great looking, monotone minimalist shoes that look adorable – but are unwearable for runners like me who log just a tad over 15 miles a week. (That’s running sarcasm, for the uninitiated.)

Sometimes I wear men’s Kayanos, simply because the toe box is wider which is good for my feet. But the guys’ Kayano 19 is no better. It’s blue and black and red and yellow and equally shiny. It looks like a toddler designed it by randomly scribbling with colored crayons on a piece of paper.

After doing a little more research, I learned that these crazy metallic shoes are limited editions, and there are other more mainstream editions of Kayano 19. But they aren’t much better looking than their flamboyant siblings. The women’s are black with pink accents or pink with white accents. And I hate pink. Hate it with a passion. Gave it up around the time I put away Jazzercise Barbie, and never looked back. I know I can’t be the only woman who feels this way.

Here’s the rub, ASICs designers. I need your top-of-the-line shoes because they keep me running healthy and happy. But I can’t justify spending $140 on shoes that look this ridiculous. You’ve taken a decision that’s been easy for me to make for nearly 20 years, and made it complicated and messy and upsetting. Take a nod from your counterparts at Skechers and Nike and please see what you can do for me. Anything simple and cool looking will be fine. Just no pink. Pretty please.