Sunday, October 29, 2006


A Rhetorical Question

It was 47 degrees with a 10 mph wind. With over 6,000 runners in attendance, Central Park was abuzz with activity. Folks were: filling out registration forms; stretching their limbs; hydrating; warming up; unpacking their gear; meeting teammates; chatting about where, when, how far and how often they run. After securing her race chip and bib number, Melissa asked, "How is it I can get up at 6:30 and travel all the way for this and can't get up in the morning everyday for work?" "Because this is play," I offered.

After spending the last six months working out in water (pool/bay/ocean/river/pond), I had no business entering a 5-mile race, but couldn't resist a chance to enjoy a run in the park with a friend. And since Melissa was game, we ran: past Strawberry Fields, the reservoir, across the transverse on to the East Drive, chugging towards Cleopatra's Needle, Cat Hill, the boathouse and Tavern on the Green. And while I was challenged by the successive hills today, I found it possible to relax by (as Dr. Keith Bell suggests) "really being there" running and focussing on the glorious autumn day. Each step we took was: a celebration, fun, play.

In Championship Sports Psychology, Dr. Bell recommends the use of imagery to enduce relaxation in a performance situation. He suggests:
  • imagining a pleasant, "very comfortable, peaceful setting"
  • carefully attending to the scene in detail
  • using all of your senses
  • looking for the various sights
  • noticing different colors and shapes
  • listening to the sounds
  • being aware of the smells
  • paying close attention to how it feels
  • experiencing it all in a very calm, relaxing a peaceful way.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


No swimmer left behind

Some mornings, I am first in a queue of swimmers and must assume the role of leader. This responsibility comes with a certain amount of stress because you have to study the workout closely, watch the clock, guide the pack and swim at a fast and steady enough pace to maintain the lead. In all seriousness, it's challenging for me to even think about developing speed at 6:30 in the morning.

The other day, our lane had a visitor. The woman, whom I'll call Missy, hadn't attended a master's practice in some time, but started strong in the water. And although Missy began to struggle a bit and trail farther behind, as the workout progressed, she kept plugging away. I waited for Missy to finish each set and touch the wall, then I told her our next set and pointed out when we would be leaving. These sort of niceties can drive some coaches mad, but I didn't want to discourage Missy and more importantly, I didn't want to leave her behind.

After the workout, Missy was tired, but appreciative and said she would return. I felt good hearing this news until the coach later pulled me aside and stressed, "A good leader keeps to the intervals." I fully understood what he meant. "But," I asked myself, "What about loyalty?"

In Wooden on Leadership, basketball coach John Wooden sheds light on the secret of successful teams. Loyalty, he says, is one of the 15 personal qualities for success. "It is impossible to be a good leader without Loyalty to your organization--your team--just as it impossible to be a good citizen without Loyalty to your country. You must, of course, have the courage to be loyal to those you lead. Doing so is not always easy. It starts, however, with Loyalty to yourself--your standards, your system, your values." Wooden continues with a quote from the Bard: "First, do not betray yourself. Second, do not betray those you lead."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


"C'mon Larry. We're going to talk about explosives,"

Coach said with a half-smile. He then gave us 5 x 100s to swim in a corksrew pattern, alternating between three "explosive" freestyle strokes, followed by six "ez" backstrokes. Fast, fast, fast, slow, slow, slow, slow, slow, slow. Repeat cycle. Our lane fared well with this set because it was perfectly balanced. We felt confident pushing and swimming at race pace because there was enough recovery built in. There was no slipping off the edge.

Later in the workout, I began to think about balance, interval training (which has been the basis for athletic training routines for years) and their practical applications in other spheres. In Making Work Work: New Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the Office, Julie Morgenstern emphasizes the importance of balance in top-tier performance. "Being in balance is about energy management," she writes. "The most successful workers create a balance that ensures they are energized, refreshed and renewed every day. Their balancing act isn't perfect, and it requires perfect attention--but they are vigilant about maintaining that balance, because they appreciate the continuity of home and rest, work and productivity."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Between Patience and Fortitude

I missed an opportunity to nominate Julia Alvarez's collection of poems, The Woman I Kept to Myself, while serving on a book committee a few years ago. Sigh. At the time, I was transfixed with the novel, thirsting for stories and following with great interest: Nazneen's plight (in Monica Ali's Brick Lane), Dylan and Mingus's developing friendship (in Lethem's Fortress of Solitude), Amir's painful return to Kabul (in Hosseini's The Kite Runner). 2004 was the same year books by Edward Jones and Mark Haddon rocked the literary world and the sizzling story collections by ZZ Packer and Oscar Casares debuted.

But this evening, as I slowly weaved through a crowd of umbrellas, I spotted a young woman standing in front of the research library staring at one of the stone lions. And I was reminded of this haunting voice in Alvarez's "Lunch Hour, 1971."

It was the autumn of my discontent
in New York City. I was twenty-one
with nothing to show but a resume
of thin successes: sundry summer jobs,
a college-writing prize, four published poems
in a small journall edited by friends.
I got a job on 42nd Street
with Special Reports, Incorporated,
a series of newsletters that went out
to schools and libraries on hot topics.

I was put in charge of Special Reports:
Ecology and the new Women's Issues,
which I manned from the tiny broom closet
called my office, from which I could see--
once the leaves fell--two lions reclining
before the public library. That fall
our bestseller, Special Reports: The World,
was full of news about the Vietnam war.
The blood-red oak leaves falling in the park
outside my window seemed sad mementos
of mounting casualities a world away,
and closer in the choices I had made.
Each day at noon, I'd race down to the street,
past protestors handing out peace buttons
and stale leaflets I'd pretend to read.
I ate a quick snack sitting on the steps
between the lions, wiped my greasy hands
on their stony manes, and still hungry,
I spent my lunch hour in the library,
feeding the poet starving inside me.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Is art democratic?

The Jewish Museum was closed today for Simchat Torah, so I missed a chance to check out the Masters of American Comics. However, a visit to the Whitney provided me with the gift of seeing two--no three--soulful works by Stuart Davis, Phillip Guston and Helen Frankenthaler. As part of the museum's two exhibits on Picasso and abstract expressionism, these paintings were luminous, musical and (gratefully!) accessible. Writing about Davis and his contemporaries, noted art historian Barbara Haskell once commented:
"During the Depression...Stuart Davis tried to argue that abstract art was inherently socialist, and something about the geometric equality of these forms that he brought together, and that his fellow abstractionists brought together on the canvas, made a political statement. This gradually evolved into the notion of freedom, artistic freedom equating with political freedom, and that artists were able to make such a statement represented the epitome of American freedom and democracy."

Saturday, October 14, 2006


How does a librarian act?

Books on management and leadership are my guilty pleasure. Yesterday, I borrowed the slim (but not slight) work, You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader. In his introduction, Mark Sanborn notes the key characteristics and aspirations of titled and untitled leaders. He writes, "You aspire to lead if you want to:
  • take control of your life
  • make your organization better
  • seize new opportunities
  • improve the service your customers receive
  • influence others to be their best
  • solve problems
  • contribute to the betterment of others
  • make the world a little better," then adds,
"And you don't need a title to do it."

My brief dip into the book gave me much food for thought. During last night's swim practice, I mused over the leadership role librarians play in communities across this city. They/ we inspire and promote change. All this made me feel good--until Coach Jackie scrawled 8 x 125 IMs on the board.

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