Well, it’s official. Lately when I order my coffee from whichever boy is behind the counter that day, he calls me by my name and makes a joke about either my current order, or one I’ve had before. I’ve never had a coffee shop where people know me by name. This means I have logged some serious hours here, and the staff is very friendly.

If you’re one of my friends who was so worried I found some kind of rabbit hole or accidentally wandered off the face of this earth that you decided to give me a call or send an email recently, then you know the question, “What are you up to?” is met with a list of large, looming deadlines that all overlap while having absolutely nothing to do with each other. You might also note that it seems I’ve been giving this same, impossible-sounding list since sometime in July. That is because it is the same large, seemingly impossible list of deadlines, but now the deadline is really really approaching, and I’m running out of time. Hi. I love you. I miss you. I cannot see you right now. I see stee, my laptop screen, my co-workers, and the boy who hands me a large nonfat latte.

Anyway, this crunch time has caused me to develop Writer’s Ear.

Writer’s Ear is a constant hazard of this job, and I should have known I was headed right towards it, but I’ve been too busy to notice I wasn’t taking the best care of my head. But last night it was undeniable — Writer’s Ear. My right ear aches, deep inside, like I’m developing an ear infection. Now, I haven’t had an ear infection since I was little. I used to get them all the time. All the time. At least once a month I had strep throat or tonsilitis, and usually that came with a monster ear infection that would leave blood on my pillow and cause the most monstrous nightmares where giant ants were throwing enormous bricks off a building. The bricks would shatter and it would feel like my eardrums were bleeding. This was because my eardrums were bleeding.

I’ve later learned that those kinds of ear infections are pretty common for children growing up in a house with second-hand smoke. Both my parents smoked inside, and it’s funny that we just thought I was a sickly kid. I’m on my back, ears bleeding, asthma racking my lungs, and my parents were like, “You need to calm down. You are stressed about school and it’s making you sick.” No lie: our cat had asthma. I got older and was home less often, and once Dad had lung cancer they started smoking outside. That last sentence wasn’t a joke, by the way. It’s the sad fucking truth. Including the part where all four of us would smoke outside. Together. As a family. And it’s one of the few things we all did as a family.

But this is supposed to be a funny story about Writer’s Ear.

So I’m not living in a house filled with smoke, and I’m not seven, so the fact that my inner ear was hurting and popping whenever I yawned was troublesome to me. And then I realized it was probably due to my headphones. I’ve been wearing headphones for about six hours a day lately, and sometimes I’m running and sometimes I’m working, but for a good part of my day I’m plugging my head shut with little metal buds that play loud loud music. I push them into my head while I’m at the coffee shop because the cappucino machine is loud and the constant pulse of French techno they play here is even louder. So every day I mash these little buds into my ears.

And then, in the morning, I go running. So now I’m mashing the buds into my ears so they don’t fall out, and I’m mashing them as I run harder, which means I’m sweating, which means I’m pushing sweat into my ear canal and then plugging it up. I’ve made an ear terrarium, and I’m wondering why my ear might have developed an infection? I’m not so smart sometimes.

Writer’s Ear has other side effects, which include getting so focused on whatever it is you’ve been writing all day that you zone out of conversations, end up taking showers that last close to half an hour, and can’t park your car without pulling a pen and the back of an envelope out of your purse to jot down sixteen things you thought about in the time it took for you to get from Eagle Rock to West LA.

Writer’s Ear is more annoying to the rest of the people in your life than yourself, because you are constantly:

A) Distant.
B) Distracted.
C) Bitching about your ear hurting.
D) Talking about iPod headphones.

I’ve switched to the headphones that don’t go inside my ears, which are too big for my head and don’t block out sound the way I’d like, but I think I need to give the inside of my right ear some time to dry out. I can deal with it right now, while I’m at the coffee shop and sitting still, but it was a pain in the ass this morning, when I was trying to run. And I can’t stop running, you see, because I’m at constant war with Office Ass.

I am battling Office Ass with everything that I am. This is also a condition that makes others suffer because it makes you:

A) Hate yourself.
B) Tell everybody you hate yourself.
C) Feel extreme guilt about every calorie consumed.
D) Apologize for wearing clothes.
E) Constantly fluctuate between indulging and punishing yourself.
F) Constantly discuss the waves of guilt that involve the size of your own ass.
G) Forget that others really don’t want to spend their day telling you how not fat you are, when you know for a fact that you are and they are all liars.
H) Lose all of your friends. (see A-G)

Please understand that my job involves sitting very still for an incredibly long period of time. You do not leave for lunch. They bring that in. They bring dinner in, too. From restaurants. Lots of food. All the time. And then there’s this breakroom that looks like Willy Wonka’s fucking factory, and the next thing you know you’re having a dark chocolate peanut cluster and a latte followed by a piece of pumpkin bread and a frappucino because dammit we still have to figure out the ending to Lola’s b-story. This kind of thinking requires more food. Food and time. Food + Time = More Ass.

I do a pretty good job avoiding most of the food. I’ve ordered every soup and salad combo Burbank has to offer. But I have a hard time resisting some of the Starbucks treats when they’re right in front of me, beckoning. “You’ll come up with the best joke if you have just a taste of sugar. With pumpkin. And chocolate.”

I was recently complaining about Office Ass to Jessica. “You don’t look fat,” she says. “But. Are you snacking at work?”

There isn’t a word to describe how guilty I sounded when I responded, “Kinda.”

Jessica summons her inner Dr. Phil. “Look. You’re working hard, and you have to sit in that chair. You can try not to eat, but you’re still running, and you look fine, and you won’t always have this job and then you’ll lose anything you gained in like a week when you go back to normal living. So what if you gain a couple of pounds. You’re working. Broke and skinny is not more fun. Quit beating yourself up about it.”

Still.

Office Ass is a concern of more and more people as the holidays approach. Last night I was with a group of people discussing Weight Watchers, and more specifically, what the hell a POINT was. This conversation, I should mention, was led by a heterosexual man. Sympathetic women were trying to soothe him as he basically admitted he was fucking starving and hated life, but dammit if he wasn’t going to stick to his alloted points. stee found the entire points thing fascinating. “How many points is a bag of Doritos? Wow! How many points in, like, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Holy crap.” A couple of years ago I tried to explain the maddening reality of stee’s metabolism, which allows him to have Guinness and ice cream for a midnight snack without even a single calorie hanging around to cling to his body. (It’s maddening! Maddening, I tell you!)

During this conversation, I turn to Todd and say, “We are all so young and vibrant.”

He doesn’t even move. Hand still shoved against his face, Guinness in his other hand, he goes, “No, Pam. You are young and vibrant. We are old. Old. What are you, twenty-four? We are a hundred and sixteen. Look at us. Jesus Christ. I’m so tired. I’m so tired. Dammit, I’m exhausted.”

So I’m not the only one feeling like time isn’t on my side.

Anyway, I’m battling Office Ass and I’m doing it mostly by attempting to run my ass off. This means I’ve been running five to six miles each time I run. On days when I’m being a real pussy, whiny and sad, I will let myself do three and a half.

Let me say this: while I can do six miles, I do not like running six miles. I like a good four. Four with the option of five. That’s a nice run that doesn’t take an hour even with warm-up and cool-down walks. That’s a nice selection of songs on my iPod, I don’t worry too much about sunscreen, and when I get home I feel really good about myself all day.

But this morning we Fell Back, and that gave me an extra hour. Just what I need right now. An extra hour. I’ve been begging for this for months. More time! More time! So I wake up with an extra hour all to myself to do with as I’d like.

Now.

I’d like to remain in bed, reading my book (which I’m sadly going to finish the next time I pick it up. I hate when books are so good I devour them and they’re gone in a flash. Yesterday we saw Bee Season, a movie I’d been waiting for because I loved the book so much. And as the movie was ending, I was crying because it was going to be over and there was nothing left to wait for.)

(shit, as long as I’m on the tangent: I’m like that with lots of things. Christmas. My birthday. I like waiting for it, anticipating, planning. And I enjoy the hell out of the event. But then, right at the last hour, the last few minutes, right when I know it’s about to be over, that’s the worst part. When you’re looking at the last present, or someone shouts “Last Call” or you’re at your cars saying goodbye, or you roll the car up to the departures curb or you’re down to the last sip of your coffee — that’s when I get sad. I hate the almost over more than the over, more than the never.)

(To conclude the Bee Season story so I can go back to talking about running (wake up, i’m incredibly entertaining!), we got in the car and I asked, “Did you like it?” and stee said, “I found it humorless and it made me want to kill myself.” One person’s secret bittersweet memory is another person’s agony.)

Jesus Christ, where was I?

Daylight Savings. So I wanted to stay in bed and read my book. I knew my day consisted of:

A) Going for a run (Because I HAVE TO.)
B) Going to the coffee shop (Because I HAVE TO.)
C) Being out of the house for two hours while stee has his comedy boys over to record another podcast.
D) Going to the store because:
E) I’m actually going to cook a meal tonight (Because I like cooking and miss it and dammit, I HAVE TO.)

stee wants to head to the coffee shop immediately to have a bagel, happy that he’s got an extra hour to do extra work. He leaves, I read another twenty pages of my book (dammit!), and then head out for a run.

I’m fine for the first couple of miles. That’s not true. I’m psyching myself for the first half mile, telling myself this’ll be one of those runs people who run talk about. I’ve never had one of those runs, by the way. I would never write in to Runner’s Magazine to talk about some trail, or some endorphin rush I got. These things don’t happen to me. I run until I can go home, until the Forerunner tells me, “That’ll do, Pig.” I run and run and try not to die. And then I hit mile, like, two. At mile two, I convince myself that I’m totally a runner and this is what I do and I’m awesome. This is the run where I’ll do seven miles! This is when I debate that marathon again for the millionth time. This is when I enjoy the mountains in the view, the smog in the view, the cars parked on the street. This is when I am happy I went for a run.

And then. Mile three.

I’m not quite halfway done, so it makes me sad. I have to force myself to think about everything other than the run. Music lyrics. The book I’m working on. Phone calls I need to return. Bills. My car, and how much longer I could go without an oil change before stee gives me another one of those, “Why do you hate your car” looks. The third mile, unfortunately, falls on a street called Hill. You see. Because the third mile, it just goes up, almost imperceptibly, for another mile. And when you’re done with Hill, you kind of want to die. And by you, I mean me. I am gasping, panting, looking like a fool. People stare. I don’t care. “I’M BATTLING OFFICE ASS, ASSHOLES. GO BACK TO DECORATING YOUR HOUSE TO LOOK LIKE A SPOOKY CASTLE.”

This is when my tongue juts out, just a little, to the bottom left. I can’t stop it from happening. I know when I’m tired, because I get puppy faced and people give me double-takes when I pass them on the street. It’s not pretty.

Mile four is a little downhill, as it is down Hill, and that’s when I perk up a little. I notice the houses again. Everybody in my neighborhood fancies themselves the Halloween comedian, so there are plenty of witches slammed into palm trees, zombies crawling out of the lawn, and one house where a grim reaper is continually rolling a lawnmower over a mauled corpse.

But there’s one house I saw today that made me trip over my feet. It’s rows of headstones, lined up all perfectly, and every single headstone has the most offensive joke scrawled across. So offensive I’m not going to write them down here, but know it’s like — AIDS jokes. Seriously. It was the weirdest thing. Three houses back they’ve got a headstone for Nate Fisher, but this house is all about killing wives and the mockery of celebrity tragedies. I couldn’t believe it. Children are going to pass by that house all day tomorrow, and… anyway.

Mile Five.

I was still upset about House I Hope Someone TP’s, but mile five is when my run turned into A Bad Run. I didn’t eat this morning, and I didn’t have water. I had a cup of coffee. So I didn’t have what one would call a good base for going out for a run that lasts longer than an hour. And it was sunny, instead of as cloudy as it has been lately. And because of the extra hour, it was actually closer to noon than eleven. And anyway…

I got hit with waves of cold. This is not a good sign, when you suddenly start to shiver when you run. There’s no breeze. I felt the skin on my back — it was extremely hot. My fingers were swollen, and well, basicallly when the wave of cold hit me, it went all the way through me, and it was so overwhelming from scalp to toes, that —

In acting class they teach you that sometimes the movement exercises you go through will cause you to have an enormous emotional release. We learn that can happen in yoga, in massage, whenever someone’s touching you or you’re using your body in a way that it doesn’t normally get manipulated. We carry emotion and stress and all kinds of things deep inside our muscles and joints and bones and sometimes we push ourselves to where something has to give. Sometimes it’s someone’s hand on top of yours. Sometimes it’s mile five. Whatever.

— I start crying. I’m nowhere near mile six, the mile where I walk up the stairs to my house, and I’m in the mildly questionable part of my neighborhood and I’m cold and sweaty and red and tears are falling. A sweet little French song is on my iPod, and I pass a part of a child’s costume that has been discarded on the street. It’s tiny little black wings, made of real feathers, that look like part of a crow costume, maybe? But right then with the music and the tears and the cold and the hill I was attempting to climb (not just on Hill do I have such obstacles), my heat-addled brain thought it was just like a fallen angel’s wings, clipped and tossed into the trash. Yeah, that kind of horribleness on mile five. And then I pass a house where someone has left a cell phone and a set of keys on the steps. And in another wave of cold and sad it looks like my sister’s phone and keys, the things she seems to be carrying with her no matter where she goes. She sits and drops her little silver flip phone and her set of keys and she clicks her tongue ring and asks, “How are youuuu?” And then I’m sad because I have weeks to go before I see my sister and so many more feet before I reach my house and somebody really should pick up those little black wings because they are sad, sad, sad.

Runner’s Tears. All because of Office Ass, which is due to Writer’s Ear. Now I’m at my coffee shop, the one that knows me by name, and Radiohead is trying to soothe me back into working on my manuscript. But this is another place where I’m supposed to write, to check in to say I’m okay. It is, in many ways, the only way some of my friends have proof I’m alive. So hi. My legs are a little shaky right now, but I’m looking pretty in this skirt. My coffee is going to make me get through the next three hours before I have to go to the store. I will get up again tomorrow and run some more (or perhaps a gentle hour of yoga so I don’t break down again by the auto shop).

All of which is to say, I’m fine. I’m a dork, but I’m fine. And thanks for watching Hot Properties! (heh)