How can I get better?

As soon as I made it my goal to run in college, I realized that I needed to make a plan in order to get better.

And since I needed to figure out how to get better, I figured the best way to go about creating a plan was to make a running log in order to keep track of what was working and what wasn’t working about my runs and workouts.

running log 1.0

The first week I noticed that I hadn’t been running as much as I thought I was– in fact, with 19 miles total and one off day, I was pretty tired.

So I made a goal to consistently average 30 miles each week (which I didn’t end up doing…) for cross country so that I could build up my endurance and survive the 5k.

I liked working towards my goals so much that I decided to let my goals govern the plan. That is, I was going to make sure that what I was doing each week was going to help me reach both my small goals and my big goal.

weeks 1 and 2 (July 2015) in running log 1.0

I ran out of space in running log 1.0 a couple months ago, so I have since been keeping my log online.

Keeping a log has also forced me to clearly define my goals and now challenges me to ask- what do I want out of running, and how can I get there?

running log 2.0!

Since hitting my initial goals of running in college and running specific times for certain events, I have set new goals for myself to achieve.

Having kept a running log for nearly two years means that I can look back and appreciate how far I have come from the runner (and person) that I was- it used to take me much longer to formulate plans around my goals and remain dedicated. Now that I have set a new series of (some rather daunting) goals for myself, I love to look back and remind myself that I met my goals by becoming dedicated to running (which I love) and putting in more hard work than I thought I ever would.

As I go to put my log entry in for today, I ask myself, how can I get better and meet my goals? And I realize that part of the answer is sitting right in front of me, in the notes and the numbers in my log.

Am I even good enough to keep playing?

This past week, I bravely decided to take on a challenge and sign up for a violin audition in February, which was a difficult decision to make… Let me elaborate:

In case you don’t know, I have a long and complicated history with the violin that dates back to when I was 4 and 3/4.

my first violin recital! I got to demonstrate my bow hold.

When I was 4 and 3/4, I felt like violin was my calling, so I begged my parents for lessons. I was determined to sound awesome and play the violin forever.

holding up my bow

The thing was, violin was more difficult than I thought it would be. All the people who played the violin on television made it seem so easy! I wanted to sound like them, but when I practiced, I sounded much, much worse.

The thing was, violin was more difficult than I thought it would be.

By the time I was six, I was determined to be that good. And being good requires a fair number of practice hours. Needless to say, getting small child Alex to practice for more than an hour a day was extremely difficult, if not diabolical.

My last time playing before I quit- in a Suzuki festival at Carnegie hall

I quit at age eight, and vowed never to pick up the violin again.

I had decided that I wasn’t good enough and that I wasn’t willing to put in the practice time anyhow. But secretly, even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I still wanted to play.

But secretly, even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I still wanted to play.

And so one day in middle school, I decided to join the orchestra, where I discovered that I wasn’t half as bad as I thought I was. In fact, I got to play at Disneyland with my orchestra and got an A on all of my three-octave scale tests (even F major… eek!) in eighth grade.

But even throughout high school, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue playing and practicing. Even when the 2nd violin section leader complimented me on my playing my freshman year, even when I finally stopped working out of the stupid Suzuki books and started working on more difficult pieces like Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro my sophomore year, and even when I got a solo part at the winter concert in my senior year, I felt wholly inadequate.

But even throughout high school, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue playing and practicing.

I won’t lie. I still feel that I am a mediocre violin student. I still feel like I will never be that good. And I definitely still prefer to evade the camera man whenever possible at church for the fear that he’ll catch me messing up when I play.

A small piece of me is still that 4-year-old though- a small piece of me still wants to be that good. By signing up and preparing for this violin audition, I feel that I am challenging myself to be better at violin than I think I am.

Secretly, even if I can’t admit it to myself yet, maybe I am beginning to accept that I am good enough to keep playing.

What I’m Reading No. 1

Hi friends! Here are some books that I’ve been reading the past few weeks of my gap year (and that I think you should read too).

I had only read an essay or two of David Sedaris’ until I picked up Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Sedaris conveys his earnest, dry sense of humor and singular voice with ease in every essay. I found myself laughing a lot, particularly as he recounts ending a book tour at Costco, picking up litter in the English countryside, the trip to a taxidermist, and his transcendent colonoscopy experience.

Thank you to the moon and back for sending me some lovely comics, Boom Studios! Adventure Time was rad, but I found Giant Days relatable and relevant. Giant Days follows three roommates, each impeccably fleshed out into very believable and distinct characters, who have just started their first year at university.giant-days

Mary Oliver’s crisp, well-written Poetry Handbook is a quick but crucial read for both writers and readers of poetry. I loved the chapter on sound, where she presents us with a Frost poem. I don’t know how to explain it, but this book, and the chapter on sound in particular, opened my ears and my imagination to reading and understanding poems at a much deeper level, and in a more emotionally-intellectually cohesive way.a-poetry-handbook-oliver

I seriously love poet/farmer Wendell Berry’s poetry. It is accessible and engaging. It can be loud and argumentative, but it can be emotive and pastoral too. This Day is a collection of poems that Berry wrote on Sundays at his farm. I always leave this book with lingering questions and lines of poetry that refuse to leave my head.this-day-wendell-berry

The Best American Essays of the Century really does contain some of the best. I most recently read James Baldwin’s essay Notes of a Native Son, where Baldwin seeks to reconcile his feelings for his dead father with whom he did not have a positive relationship. I love the way that Baldwin attempts to make sense of his father-son narrative by exploring both his and his father’s places in

and finally… Neal Shusterman’s National Book Award-winner Challenger Deep now sits high up on my list of favorite YA titles (next to The Book Thief). Shusterman deftly utilizes a unique plot structure that helps the reader empathize with and understand protagonist Caden’s relationship to his mental illness. Definitely an important read.challenger-deep-shusterman