Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I had a dream last night that I spent the entire last mile of the marathon crying my eyes out. People kept asking what was wrong and all I could say, like a little kid, was that I missed my mommy. I woke up and it was September 21st - Alzheimer's Action Day.

I've spent the morning wondering if what I'm doing here is actually activism in the traditional sense of the word. Honestly, some days, when I feel obligated to say something activist-like that inspires people to some kind of action, I can't help but think what I'm doing is more like a warped kind of mourning that just happens to have positive side effects.

My fundraising letter included a short paragraph about the public health impact of the disease and the economic, social, and even political effects of Alzheimer's if allowed to continue unchecked. But the majority of my message was mostly about my family and how hurt we've been by the withdrawal of Mom from our midst over the past few years. I've limited my fundraising efforts to the people I know and I haven't done anything to raise awareness of the disease or its effects to the greater population. I haven't volunteered my time (or what's left of it) to my local chapter, I haven't participated in any fundraising events, and I haven't told people I don't want to know (i.e. coworkers - only one is on my Facebook page and she rocks) anything about what's going on in my family. Selfishly, I guess I just haven't wanted people to know because there are times I really just don't want to talk about it...and isn't that what an activist is supposed to do? I don't want Mom's condition to be something people ask about just to make small talk or to show they remember something personal about me, but at the same time, I feel like I'm letting "the cause" down if I'm not constantly out there spreading awareness every chance I get...and personal stories of loss are the most effective tools an activist has at their disposal. After all, as Joseph Stalin said, "the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."

As I've said before, accepting my invitation to Team Run2Remember was like a partial coming-out for me - outside of the family and a few friends, even the people who knew what was happening to my mother really had no idea how I felt about it until I started the blog and wrote that letter. But I don't want to spend all my time remembering and letting this define me, or I'll be a constant tear-stained exhausted mess like I've been this morning. Sometimes there's nothing I'd like more than to forget, if just for a little while. And that's when the anonymity of this quiet, personal advocacy has been a blessing.

Maybe one of these days I'll be strong enough to stand up in front of a group of people and tell them my story and inspire them to action, or march on the Capitol with picket signs...but I'm not there yet. I just don't have the words. So instead, my request to everyone who reads this is to find the words for me - call your mothers, talk about a favorite shared memory, and tell them how much you love them.

That's my kind of activism.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vomit in the Mail

When I came home from the office the other day, Recon was so excited to see me he danced around my legs twice, jumped up to lick my face, then promptly ran away and threw up under the ironing board...twice. I cleaned it up good-naturedly and told him I was happy to see him, too...and that I was grateful he licked my face BEFORE he threw up, instead of after.

In my silly, inarticulate eagerness to tell my loved ones exactly how grateful I am for their generosity, I feel like Recon - SO excited to get my point across, it all comes out in a huge wet mass of word vomit. This is probably some of the most awkward-sounding writing I've ever done, but at the same time, it's some of the most gratifying.

As I said briefly a couple of posts ago, Mom was, of course, the one who taught me the art of the thank you note. She said it wasn't supposed to be like a dutiful and perfunctory form letter, it was supposed to make the person doing the giving feel as good as you did when you did the receiving. "Don't be embarrassing about it or they won't think you mean it," she said. "Just be honest and tell them how you feel."

Since I wrote those first early thank you notes for Christmas and birthday gifts, and holiday money sent in the mail by various relatives, real mail - the unsolicited kind sent from someone who loves you (as opposed to bills and junk) - has become something of a rare commodity. But I think it's all the more meaningful for its rarity. It's been such a treat for me to come home to amazing gifts of money and encouragement in the mail the past month and a half (and to have them turn up in my email inbox during an otherwise nasty day at the office), it's an honor and a privilege to send some of that love back through the mail. Even if it's love in the form of word vomit.

Mom would scold me for the timeliness - or lack thereof - though. Sometimes I get into a rhythm and I'm able to get out four or five cards in a day. Other days, it's more like one...or I'm not in the mood and don't send any. But I also consider it an incredible gift that I've been unable to catch up on these notes - for every one I send, I add three new people to my list.

Still overwhelmed and amazed by you all.

Monday, September 12, 2011


As I write this, registration for the 2012 Boston Marathon has been underway for almost two hours. Last year, the race sold out by 5 PM, blowing the previous sellout record out of the water and disappointing hundreds of runners who were either denied by the overloaded BAA servers or hoping to qualify in a later fall race. Recognizing their qualification/registration system as unsustainable for future events, the BAA implemented a rolling registration system for 2011 (for the 2012 race) and stricter qualifying times for 2012 (for the 2013 race). 

There are times I envy fast runners - notably when I'm still slogging away and they're already at the finish line, enjoying their post-run indulgence of choice - but this was not one of those times. My best chances of ever qualifying for Boston have more to do with adding years onto my age than subtracting minutes (or, in my case, HOURS) off my marathon time. At the time, the only person I knew fast enough to care one way or the other was sidelining himself for an imaginary stress fracture (that magically disappeared within a day or two of Boston closing) so my interest in the debacle was purely academic, like watching a college basketball game between two schools I care nothing about.

What DID interest me, however, was the backlash against charity runners. The Boston Marathon, like most races, allocates a certain number of non-qualifying guaranteed entry spots for charity runners. But since most races don't have a qualifying standard for entry, Boston charity spots are particularly contentious. Over and over, I read the story of "Here I am, working myself to death only to miss my qualifying time by a mere 5 seconds, and then I hear Big Butt Bob in my office, who's never run a mile in his life, bought his way in through a charity entry." I asked Brian if this was the way most qualifiers felt about charity entrants into Boston, and he was noticeably noncommittal. 

"All these people who criticize charity runners and say they 'bought their way in,' do they realize the fundraising standards are upwards of $5000? To run with the Alzheimer's Association, I'd have to raise $7500!"

"Mmm," he said. He didn't look at me.

It was then that I ruled out the idea of running Boston for the Alzheimer's Association and focused solely on the idea of the much more charity-friendly-sounding NYC.* I'm no Big Butt Bob, but I didn't like the idea of having my first charity marathon looked down on by anyone, either. NYC's qualifying times are actually more stringent than those of Boston, but the field is composed of far more non-qualifiers than speed demons.  The most popular route to the starting line, from what I've heard, seems to be applying for the lottery and being rejected three years in a row. But with over 200 charities participating in 2011, there didn't seem to be anything either extraordinary or controversial about being a charity entrant. 

And then last Tuesday at my speed session, I was running up a hill with two of the guys in my pace group, and one asked what races we were training for. When I said NYC, he asked if I qualified - a stupid question given the pace group we were assigned - and I said no.

Him: "How did you get in, then?"
Me: "Charity."
Him: "Oh. Cheater!"


Brian contends he was only joking, but that's not how most people respond when I tell them I'm running for charity. Are people just being nice about the charity thing because they know about Mom and Grandma, and about how personal this is for me? Is this the common perception of charity runners in a not-everyone's-invited kind of event? Is he just jealous, or just an asshole? Either way, even if I'd had the breath to debate it, I didn't feel like sharing any of the details of my life with this guy, but I felt like crying the rest of the way up the hill and I'm not sure how I feel about going to speed sessions tomorrow. But even if I couldn't say it, here's what I was thinking:

For anyone out there who considers a charity entry "buying your way in," I have news for you - this is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. I kept my thoughts and feelings about Mom's condition and Grandma's death very much to myself until I decided to register for this race, so it's been a bit of an emotional minefield, figuring out how to go public and in what ways. I've spent a TON of time and money (and sweat and tears) trying to sort out my fundraising. And after reaping all the rewards from raising money for a cause that means so much to me, and clearly so much to everyone who loves Mom and loves Grandma, I would have been cheating us all out of an opportunity to squeeze as much good as possible out of an often seemingly horrible and hopeless situation. The difference between running passively and running actively has made ALL the difference for me, and I hope everyone finds something in their life they're passionate enough about to raise money for. 

If not, perhaps you're the one who's cheating yourself. Ass.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Few Words About The Most Amazing Friends and Family, Ever.

The Thanksgiving after Hanna's engagement to The Ninja, Dad sat the rest of us down, in true Jacob Marley fashion, to discuss his Vision of Christmases Yet To Come.

"As you guys get older and get married and especially after you have kids," he explained, "you'll discover that Christmas turns into a logistical nightmare. Everyone wants to see you within that same 4-5 hour window, so they can watch the kids open presents and stuff. So I'm going to make it easy on you by surrendering now. Instead of fighting to see everyone at the same time on Christmas Day, I'm staking out Christmas Eve. We can open family presents then and have dinner together, and then you can be free to do whatever else with whomever on the actual day. Your mother and I will go to the beach. Those of you who are free are more than welcome to join us."

To me, unmarried and childless with no real threats in either direction but a love for the beach almost as fierce as my hatred for winter, and a job (for KU) that let me travel between Christmas and New Year's, this was fantastic news. And for a couple of years, it worked out perfectly - we celebrated as a family Christmas Eve, then the rest of us would leave for the beach and Hanna would see to her in-law obligations in town. Then Mom's condition started getting worse and real life started getting in the way, and the Hodges Christmas Vacation, Dauphin Island Edition, was no more. 

Those last few family Christmases at Dauphin Island were, in fact, the last time my family traveled as a family. I see my family often, sure, but I miss the trips. So many good memories were made during those trips. So when Dad announced, shortly after my acceptance to Team Run2Remember, that he would come to NYC for marathon weekend, I was thrilled and my nerves about accepting such an enormous undertaking immediately began to recede. When he said he'd use his plethora of Southwest frequent flyer miles to buy a ticket for whomever of my siblings cared to join (duh - all of them!), the misgivings totally vanished and I started to get excited about another Hodges family vacation. The idea of a trip without Mom makes me sad, but the idea of a trip in her honor is the next best thing I could have hoped for.

So then, when some of my family's longest-time friends, Beth and Shane Coughlin and Tom and Gayle Baddeley, made plans to come join the party, it was icing on the cake. My best friend from high school, Megan, rearranged her plans to visit her boyfriend in NYC over marathon weekend so she could see me run, and the first friend I ever had, Elizabeth Baddeley, a grad student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, is going to make me my first-ever race signs. And of course, Brian, the one who's seen the blood(y toenails), sweat (with the heat wave, a whole bunch), and tears behind each and every training run, will be making the trip with me and probably wishing he could run it, too. This, on top of the enormous outpouring of love and generosity I've received in response to my request for donations, has me thinking perhaps I was too pessimistic in my initial goal-setting for both running time AND fundraising. Two months out, I'm running better than I ever have, and at the moment, I'm sitting on a cool $5075 in donations - a mere $925 away from my goal of $6000.

Not bad for someone who's uncomfortable asking for money, right? Perhaps I'm warming up.

The other incredible thing about the donations I've been receiving is that although my fundraising has been immensely personal and geared mostly towards the people who know and love Mom and Grandma the best and most, 14% of my donations came from people who've never even MET Mom or Grandma and wanted to show their support for me and for the end of Alzheimer's Disease, and of those donations, 46% are from people who haven't even known me a year. (I even received a very surprising $25 online donation from someone I've never actually met!) I'm trying to come up with a good way to incorporate the names of all my donors - all my heroes - onto the back of my shirt. They carried me to the starting line; it would be my honor to carry their names on my back for the million or so spectators in New York City to respect and admire.

Seriously. Mom and Grandma would be proud. Of me, yes, but especially of all of you.

And in case anyone was wondering, it WAS Mom who schooled me in the fine art of a good thank you note. "It shouldn't be a form letter, it should come from your heart."

I received this photo (among others) along with a generous donation from Joe and Joanne Cox, Mom and Dad's roommates in Paris in 1976, when Dad was taking an international law class. This was also the trip they met my godfather, Uncle Jimmy (in the tie). Click to enlarge.

The city hasn't changed much...and I still have the most beautiful mom ever. :)

Time or Money?

Here's an interesting question for your consideration. If you were given the choice of one of the following every day for a year, which would you choose?
(a) An extra two hours of leisure time added onto every day. This time wouldn't subtract from any of your other activities (school/work, sleep, free time, etc.) but would be available to you for any purpose except additional work/school.
(b) An extra $30 added to your bank balance every day.
While I often find myself horribly short of discretionary cash, I still think I'd go for option (a), as it seems like I'm always hurrying through _____ because I know I need to _____.

All-too-often applicable example: "It seems like I'm always hurrying through dinner because I know I need to get to bed." So if both eating and sleeping are rushed, it goes without saying that the things I really love to do, the soul-building things like finishing an entire book in a day just because I couldn't put it down, have really fallen by the wayside. Multitasking only helps to a certain extent, and I've come up with some odd combinations. I do most of my leisure reading, for example, while drying my hair in the morning.

And I can't resort to the old standby of buying time because, with the exception of work, my presence is required for pretty much everything on my to-do list. Buying time doesn't work if your evening list consists of a 9-mile run, dinner, and 8 hours of sleep. Fortunately, I'm a faster runner than I was at this time last year, so that saves a certain amount of time...but not enough. Blogging is another one of those things I have to be present for, due to the super-specific, super-personal nature of the topic, but because it's not miles on the road, calories in my stomach, time in bed, or money in the bank, it often falls by the wayside. Disappointing, though, because I think I do this a lot better than I do any of that other stuff. Except probably the eating. And the sleeping.

At one point in my eclectic assortment of life experiences, I was a journalist, of sorts, so I know how to operate and write under the pressure of a deadline. I'm also rarely at a loss for ideas. But unfortunately, I'm also a raging perfectionist who doesn't really like to post half-baked or poorly-articulated thoughts. It's like my intestinal troubles on my run last Saturday - if I can't get it out when I have the opportunity to get it out, it just has to wait. (Evocative analogy, isn't it.)

This is my incredibly inept way of saying I haven't given up on this blog. It's been a month since I've posted, but an unbelievably busy and successful one, training and fundraising-wise. I had a little bit of stress from a personal problem I should have taken care of a long time ago, but thanks to help from Dad and a lot of patience from Brian, it's taken care of and I can stop feeling quite so irritated with myself and start moving forward again with a more positive outlook.

So here's to the road ahead. Thanks for your patience. :)