Notes From The Starting Line

A signed photo from Captain Saunders on the S.S. Melville Jacoby

A signed photo from Captain Saunders on the S.S. Melville Jacoby

Today brings a bloom of beginnings from a tangle of endings. Perhaps that's not surprising. I suppose beginnings and endings all occupy coterminous space. And as I write, I'm struck by how my own beginnings and my own endings weave around one another and, often, between two places — Los Angeles and Portland.

But I'm writing today to recognize one simple beginning: the redesigned, relaunched version of my website, upon which, presumably, you're reading these words. I do so hoping to re-introduce the world to my own background as a writer and journalist and as a storyteller, and to re-pique your curiosity about Melville Jacoby, whose adventures, romance and experiences as a journalist in World War II-era China and the Philippines will be the subject of a forthcoming book.

Thinking about Mel, I'm reminded that a year ago today, two friends of mine and I clambered across miles of rocky shoreline beneath the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Despite a cloudless sky, sharp breezes whipped our bodies as we strode along the edge of a continent. In search of history, we found rusted strips of metal that nearly fifty years of waves had torn from a ship once known as the S.S. Melville Jacoby. That day last year when I finally climbed atop one of the oxidized hulks left on the shore, I stared across the Pacific and thought I'd reached the culmination of one of my journeys. I thought I would soon finish a Kickstarter campaign in which I'd hoped to raise $25,000 to fund my effort to tell Mel's story. Unfortunately, my deadline arrived five days later and I hadn't met my goal, even if I did raise more than $13,000 in pledges. Not the ending I'd hoped for, but it turned out not to matter. With many of my backers' support I continued to work on making the book happen. Today, as I'll soon explain, I'm far closer to that goal.

Opening Days

Baseball in tree

Baseball in tree

But there's a more obvious reason to think about beginnings today. This is Major League Baseball's Opening Day. For baseball fans and players, it's the beginning of a new season full of promise and opportunity. As clichéd as it sounds, for a moment, anything is possible.

I'm a lifelong fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers (and of Vin Scully, their magical announcer of 62 years). Opening Day always brings a sense of renewal to me almost more powerful than does the arrival of Spring in the natural world (though the beautiful weekend that just passed in Portland underscores the marvels of seasonal change). Thus, it seems especially fitting to re-launch my website today.

But it wasn't baseball on my mind when I first started writing this post.

Two weeks ago, I accomplished something that I wouldn't have imagined on that rocky beach last year: I ran the Los Angeles marathon.

This was my first marathon. Despite the sore legs immediately afterward and a certain degree of post-race malaise these past two weeks, the experience was, simply, fantastic. Four hours, 22 minutes and 36 seconds brought me from Dodger Stadium (where else?) to Santa Monica's California Incline. Crossing the finish line brought more than the end of a race. The moment brought the culmination of four long, sometimes painful, occasionally tedious, but often revelatory months of training.

Crowds gather at the starting line of the 2013 Los Angeles Marathon.

Crowds gather at the starting line of the 2013 Los Angeles Marathon.

Just a week before the race a barista asked me how I felt about this training regime. Without thinking I told her "this has been the best four months of my life." As shocked as I was to hear myself say that, I quickly realized I was speaking honestly.

At first, though, that seemed absurd. Those four months were grueling, even when I felt confident in or energized by my running. Shortly before I began training in earnest, I injured the medial collateral ligament of my left knee. I couldn't run for weeks, but it was early enough that I recovered before my first official training run. My knee protested for some time, but I kept running.

Still, other aspects of my life were far from ideal. The same week I kicked off my training, I got dumped, my apartment flooded into the unit below mine, I froze on stage in the middle of a story for a night of mass transit tales, and I got food poisoning. Meanwhile, rejection letters continued to fill my inbox from agents I'd queried regarding Mel's book.

But I kept running. I kept running through more rejections. I kept running as editors turned down freelance pitches. I kept running as romances fizzled as quickly as they sparked. Through pouring rain, plummeting temperatures, and darkening nights, I kept running.

Then, shortly before Christmas, I twisted my ankle and had to suspend my training again. Home for the holiday, I could barely walk up and down the stairs at my mother's house. For weeks, even a short walk around the block — let alone the miles I needed to start adding to my training regime — left me in tremendous pain. The training had sustained me before the injury, had given me a groove into which I could find solace from personal and financial and professional turmoil, and I was jarred by losing so quickly that rhythm and structure I'd built.

But still, I kept running, and the pain subsided. In its place emerged a renewed focus that spilled over from the running into other areas of my life, perhaps most notably into my writing. Indeed, it already had. All those other changes as I began my training — I'd even sold my car in November — coincided with a new focus on my book. Soon I'd re-written my literary proposal, and by the beginning of February — as my long training runs pushed 16, then 18, then 20 miles — I'd found an agent for my book. After four months of rejections, here was someone who recognized how great Mel's story is, and someone confident I'm the one to tell it.

The Cover Page from the first draft of Melville Jacoby's Book

The Cover Page from the first draft of Melville Jacoby's Book

My race isn't over with the book. My agent and I still need to sell the idea, and I still need to write the book. But as we prepare to submit the project to editors, I realize that while I kept running, I also kept writing. Through the disappointments and heartbreak and injuries (not to mention a horrendous allergic reaction I suffered just over a week before the marathon), I kept writing, first in snippets, then in longer stretches. Perhaps it's no coincidence that I signed my agent just as my training reached its peak. Perhaps the proposal revisions and sample chapter overhauls I've just finished are the long runs in the training cycle of writing a book.

One race has ended. Perhaps another starting line is approaching.

Willing to help nudge me along with a dollar or two?

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