Up, Down, and Up Again

Oct 1
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Travel log, Writing

Well, I suppose it’s inevitable that Bill and I would catch colds. You don’t leave summer and arrive to a blast of winter without a shock to the system. We had a first short bout with the flu/cold but tried not to let it keep us down.

Last week we visited Lenga, and then the mine in the town of Lota (where former miners lead tours 930 yards under the water), after taking a walk in that city’s lovely private park.

Getting ready to go underground

Getting ready to go underground


Not much air down here.

Not much air down here.

The next day we caught round two of what I call “this nasty, never-ending virus.” And while we definitely spent too much time watching CNN and fretting over the state of the world as we were recovering, we also managed to make the best of our low energy.

For one thing, we buckled down to read essays. Before we came to Concepcion, Bill and I both thought long and hard about whether or not to actually assign essays in the classes he was to teach about academic writing. I, for one, voted yes. How can you teach writing without actually asking students to write? As an author, writing is my passion, and while I’m well aware that not everyone loves the writing process, it’s sort of a personal mission of mine to spread the word that, “Hey, writing is fun. You should try it.” So we agreed that we would assign a seven-paragraph essay to be based on interviews students would conduct on topics of their choosing.

Although giving conscientious feedback on so many essays has been an arduous task, reading them has turned out to be the best possible way for US to learn about Chile through the eyes of her up-and-coming generation of educators.

We’ve read essays about the following topics (just to name a few):

  • Abortion (Chile, according to students, is one of only a handful of countries that has absolutely no legal provision for abortion of any kind, regardless of the health of the mother or the advent of a pregnancy due to rape—no matter how young the victim)
  • Why student protests are important
  • Chilean attitudes about gender, the legalization of marijuana, corporal punishment, and same-sex marriage
  • The centralization of culture, business, and government in Santiago
  • Gun ownership in Chile
  • High taxes on books and what people think should be done about such taxes

Of course we didn’t create our assignment to give ourselves an education about Chile’s social and political issues, but we’ve been delighted that this has been the outcome. We are absolutely impressed at how bright and thoughtful students at the Universidad de Concepcion are. So impressed, in fact, we feel sure that if they represent the quality of the world’s next generation, the future is much brighter than CNN would lead us to believe

These past few days we are gradually feeling better. We’ve been well enough to enjoy meals and get-togethers with new friends—in spite of continued nose-blowing and plenty of “productive coughing” and hacking.

Our new friend Karla had us over on Friday and let us spend the evening with her family (including her two golden retrievers). Then Saturday we enjoyed a gallery show with Cecilia.

With Cecilia and her friend, artists, Marcela Krause

Cecilia and her friend, artista, Marcela Krause, and another friend


Bill, art gazing

Bill, art gazing

And then later in the day, we drove up and down some steep winding hills with Lilian and her family to reach the fishing town of Tumbes, where we had an awesome lunch.




On the ride home from Tumbes. L to R: Bill, moi, Ellie, Laura

On the ride home from Tumbes. L to R: Bill, moi, Ellie, Laura

Monday night we had the most BEAUTIFUL dinner with Maria Edith and Cecilia.













From L to R: Bill, Cecilia, moi, Maria Edith

From L to R: Bill, Cecilia, moi, Maria Edith

And while I didn’t get pictures of it, yesterday we spent one sweet hour with another Cecilia’s class of life-long learners who ranged between ages 25 and 85!!

Whew! No time to be sick. What fun.




Why I Write

Aug 11
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Conversations, Writing

My friend Leah Lax invited me to be a part of her blog tour by answering the questions below about my writing life. Leah is one of the authors in our book Beyond Belief who is currently shopping her own beautiful memoir. She’s a dog-lover, a writing teacher, and a musician. Leah lives in Houston.

Note: I have a sinking feeling that I was supposed to do the interview questions below and then send them on to three other bloggers. I never sent the questions on, so the chain-letter experience will end with me, but after the body of this post, I have listed three bloggers whose sites I go to almost every day. Check them out just for fun.



  1. What are you working on?

Right now I have a few projects in the works. For one thing, because we are on this grand 5-month adventure to Chile, I’m BLOGGING as regularly as I can! I love blogging precisely because people read what you write almost instantly. Right now, blogging is a way for me to stay connected to community back home.

But I’m also working on a book (working title: Running Undercover—or something like that) which chronicles the history of women’s running. Before women comprised more than 50 percent of the runner population in North America, we were discouraged from running, told our wombs would fall out if we ran long distances, and prevented from signing up for races. We’ve largely overcome all of that in the west, but there are still populations/communities where running is rare, discouraged, or even illegal for women. This book explores the lives of women who buck their respective systems and find their way to running as a subversive activity that ultimately leads to life-changing freedom and self-authority.

  1. How does your work differ from other work in your genre?

I’m sure as a writer I share some qualities with others who write memoir or who write about women’s issues and/or running. Because of my background as a psychotherapist, what I think I bring to the table is a unique blend of story-telling and psychology. In every story I write, fiction or non-fiction, I’m looking for/listening for the metaphor that makes that story applicable to other people’s lives. Everything has a lesson for us if we pay attention. I’m not saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” The idea that everything which happens to us is pre-planned for a specific reason is a philosophy I don’t have much affection for. I don’t feel like I have any idea WHY things happen. What I’m saying is that we can choose to consider each thing that happens to us an opportunity to find a way to grow. WE construct the narratives of our lives. When I write about my own life or about the lives of others, I look for how to tell a meaningful story that has some generalizability. I want people to relate to what I write and to feel encouraged by it.

  1. Why do you write what you do?

Well, I alluded to this above. I want those who read what I write to walk away feeling like they can take hold of life and live it on their own terms. This passion to encourage others probably comes from my years of living inside of a small religious dogma that made me feel there wasn’t much wiggle room for self expression. Now I feel like creative expression is central to my sense of well-being.

  1. How does your writing process work?

Ah… Well, it starts with my calendar. I block out chunks of time and then I put my butt in the chair, open my computer, and place my hands on the keyboard. I always have at least one project going. If I can’t come up with anything to write on any of those projects, I open a blank document and listen to the voice of my deeper self. I write down whatever she tells me. Eventually, I settle down and feel I can get back to one of my projects at hand.



So three blogs I go to very regularly:

A. Pam Helberg. Pam is runner as well as a memoirist, poet, and essayist who is currently studying to become a therapist. I’m watching her journey closely.

B. Wendy Welch. Wendy is my pal in Big Stone Gap. Her life couldn’t be more different than mine, and so I peer into it through her blog with fascination (and sometimes with befuddlement).

C. Dawn Landau. Her website, Tales from the Motherland, features such posts as “I May Be Lame, Clueless and Demanding… But You Still Came out of My Vagina (and other ugly truths).”

The Notable and the New

Dec 17
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Reflections, Writing

Beyond BeliefI am bubbling over with excitement. First, you may have heard that the book I edited with Susan Tive, Beyond Belief, was named on The Washington Post’s Notable Nonfiction list. Susan and I are so very grateful that others are finding the volume we all worked so hard on to be a quality book with relevance in our larger cultural discussion. Thank you Washington Post.

I’m also excited about a new book idea I’ve got brewing. And I thought I would share it with you all, not only because I think you might be interested, but also because I’ll appreciate your input. My working title is: Undercover Runners. Let me tell you how my concept for the new book emerged.

As you know, running is central to my identity (like I know it is for many of you). And while I’m too far at the back of the pack to qualify for the esteemed Boston Marathon, my faster and more sure-footed husband, Bill, has qualified several times. Last year, because we were at the Boston race when the bombings occurred, I spent an excruciating twenty minutes waiting for Bill to come out of the runners’ recovery area after I’d heard the explosions, not knowing yet what had happened or if he was okay (he was).

The bombings haunted many of us who were there.

The fact that two young zealots took it upon themselves to destroy so many lives is angering. The fact that they chose to do it at what is arguably one of the most “sacred” events for runners worldwide made the bombings feel personal.

As time passed, I continued to hold the experience of the Boston bombings in my body, feeling the sting of grief every time I thought of what happened, tearing up at the memory of how Boston pulled together to recover after the incident, standing in solidarity with runners everywhere because we were assaulted as a community.

I was deep in the mode of thinking about the “meaning” of running when I took a run one morning with the friend of a friend who was in town for a long weekend. Tacla had spent some time in Egypt while working for the US government. As I was guiding her through Whatcom Falls Park, plodding over roots and rocks and along rolling hills on our heavily wooded trails, she told me about running in Egypt. Where she lived, at least, women runners were not common, and those who did run were not altogether safe. In fact, running was discouraged, undertaken at a woman’s own risk. One woman, she told me, had been forbidden by her father from running on the streets, but she was committed to her running—had somehow discovered that it cleared her mind and made her feel strong—and so she logged her miles by jogging back and forth on the family’s vast veranda. There were no ambling trails in the woods for this woman.

Imagine, I thought, being so committed to running that you would do it secretly, against your family’s better judgment, in spite your very culture and religion if necessary! This one woman across the globe undertook her running as a subversive stand for self-respect.

Just as the Boston bombing has settled into my cells, so has the story of the woman running on her porch. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. I wonder how she learned that running “works” to clear life’s cobwebs and how she plucks up the courage to occasionally sneak out and run with friends when no one is watching (as I understand she does). How many other women runners are out there who run secretly—or privately? And what about those “covered” women whose faiths require clothing that would make the sweat and quick movements of running uncomfortable? Who are they? Where do they run? What are their stories? And what if a woman running in any culture IS subversive—because there’s nothing quite like hard physical exertion to teach a woman that she’s strong?

So I’m in the process of interviewing women who run against the tides of their cultures or faiths (even if they stay IN them). I’m looking to understand how, as I don my shorts and t-shirt and take for granted that I can step out onto the trail right outside my door to run alone, some women don’t have that unobstructed freedom to run—but they do it anyhow.

Here’s where I’m asking for your help. If you know a woman who covers because of her faith and runs in her covering… or if you know a woman who for any reason sneaks her runs, I’d love to hear from you. Women who speak to me can be assured that they will be respected AND that they can remain anonymous if they’d like (contact: clostman@live.com).


New Year, New Goals!

Dec 30
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Preparations, Reflections, Writing

Every January, I set new goals. It’s not that I don’t set goals throughout the rest of the year as well; it’s just that January represents a time when goal-setting is in the air. I like to take advantage of the opportunity to “reset” my energy, and I do it with a great deal of intention each year.

I rarely make New Year’s resolutions, per se, because I see a difference between a resolution and a goal. A resolution is a new resolve–a determination to BE something different in the new year. I find resolutions daunting. “To be more organized,” for example, is a resolution (which I’ve set for myself many times, to tell you the truth). “To lose weight” or “to start exercising” are also resolutions. A bit vague, even though they are action oriented.

I don’t have anything against resolves (in fact, I like them and think they are important), but I do think they’re tough to complete because they aren’t measurable. To get something done, one needs to know what success looks like and have a deadline.

A goal is a specific determination to DO or to FINISH something. The completion of a goal is easy to assess if you make your benchmarks specific and obtainable. I’ll say more about this in a moment.

At the beginning of 2012, I set a few goals for myself: I wanted to find someone to help me market my business by the end of September; I wanted to run marathons in at least two States by the end of the year; and I wanted to issue a challenge to friends to run their first full or half marathon and to follow along with their progress. I also wanted to complete my new book, Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions. All of these got done. (What didn’t get done? Well, I don’t know if I’m any more organized than I was the year before!)

In 2013, I have a handful of goals I’m excited about, too: I’m planning to train to shave off at least a half hour from my best marathon time (4:53); I’m going to double my twitter followers in service to my business (follow me at https://twitter.com/camiostman); and I’m going to publish an anthology of women writers writing about writing! I also plan to start two group coaching courses and run them repeatedly throughout the year and to complete (by September)the writing of a novel that I’ve been working on for more than a decade. It’s a big list, but I promise you I’ll get through it!

How, you ask? Keep reading.

Let’s talk about your goals, now. I’d love to support you in reaching your goals, catching your second wind, and living an abundant, happy life this year, so let me share with you the end-of-the-year process that gets me to my goal setting and, more importantly, my goal achieving. You can do it with me this year.

The first week of every January, I spend some time writing about the previous year and crafting my goals for the next. Below are the questions I use for journaling this process. Why not give them a try now?

1. What are all the things from 2012 I’m proud of? What did I get done? (Write down everything that comes to mind, big and small!)

2. What did I learn in 2012 that I’d like to remember for 2013?

3. What do I want to accomplish in 2013? (Write down everything that comes to mind, big and small!)

4. Which of the above items are most important to me? (Circle up to five, but no more.)

5. What steps do I need to take in order to complete each of these? What are my deadlines for each of these steps? (I make a spreadsheet with the months of the year across the top and the goal along the left-hand side. Then I fill it in with benchmark objectives I plan to reach. Check out a printable version of the table here: 2013 Goal Planner.)

6. How will I celebrate or mark the completion of each step toward progress?

7. Who/what do I need to support me in this goal?

As you can see, this is a simple process. But it works! It works because the focus is not on changing anything essential about yourself. There is nothing shaming or condemning about these questions. There is no need to go back and look at your failures or to decide there is anything problematic or pathological about you. The key is breaking down the goal into bite-sized, achievable steps.

If you have a specific goal you’d like to work toward but feel stuck as you go through this process, why not give me a call and let me walk through it with you. I’m offering free half-hour consultations through January and February to help people identify their goals and objectives for 2013.

Happy New Year, Second Wind-ers! I look forward to hearing from you on facebook, twitter, or email throughout the year as you report on your successes and wins!

The Next Big Thing

Dec 28
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Conversations, Reflections, Writing

Every once in a while I have the fun of getting tagged in one of these blogger memes. I love them. It’s an online ponzi scheme wherein one author tags five other writers who each completes a self-interview and names five more bloggers/authors. This meme is called The Next Big Thing, where I get to share a little more about my next big thing. It’s perfect because I was just going to write about my next book and let y’all know when it’s coming out and what it’s about.

For this interview, I was tagged by Rebecca A. Saxton, writing teacher and blogger at Binding Wor(l)ds Together. Keep your eye on her because you’ll want to read her book when it comes out!

Here are my answers to the interview questions:

What is the working title and genre of your book?

My first book, Second Wind, was such an incredible delight to live and to write. Once the hubbub of marketing died down a little, I had the chance to think about what I might like to write next (I mean, besides this cool running blog, which I LOVE doing). I’d been discussing a project with a friend of mine for a couple of years that picked up on one of the sub-themes in Second Wind: Religion and faith. After a great deal of work this past year, I’m pleased to say that our new anthology, Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religion, will be coming out in April of 2013!!!
This is obviously not a book about running, it’s an anthology with 25 authors writing about their own spiritual journeys getting into and out of religious communities that, in some way, apply restrictions the secular world wouldn’t choose to adhere to.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Spirituality has always been an interest of mine. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to try and understand the numinous, the Mystery just beyond my reach. My co-editor, Susan Tive, and I met in a memoir writing class and discovered that although we came from different religious traditions, we understood one another’s struggles to distance ourselves from the harshest aspects of religion while still trying to remain grounded. We decided that we’d invite other women to join in on the conversation and it became a book.

Which actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie version of the book?

Well, I’ve always fancied the idea of Kate Winslett playing me in the film version of Second Wind. I wouldn’t mind if she’d like to play me in the screen version of any book I write, I suppose. We’d need a “binder full” of powerful actress to play the characters in Beyond Belief. I’ll have to think about this one.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Women write about their experiences getting into, staying inside of, and leaving restrictive religious communities.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency or publisher?

Seal Press will be publishing Beyond Belief. They are the same publisher whom I worked with on Second Wind. I love them.

How long did it take to write the first draft?

This book took a year. We had to find our writers and then work with them in the editing process. It was exciting to meet so many interesting women!

What other works compare to your book?

Drinking Diaries: Women Serve their Stories Straight Up (editors Caren Osten Gerszberg and Leah Odze Eptsein) and Love InshAlla: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women (editors Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu) are both collections of women’s writings that let us see inside private spaces often not talked about.

What or who inspired you to write this book?

I’m genuinely inspired by my therapy and coaching clients, to tell you the truth. Over the past 12 years I’ve had the privilege of sitting with individuals as they sort through the complex questions of life and try to move forward out of difficult situations into meaningful and productive existence. Faith/spirituality/religion is one area of deep, deep grappling for many people, and I’m inspired by how brave many of my clients have been as they ask hard questions and make tough decisions–especially when they decide they must walk away from something their community still values.

What else about your book might pique interest?

Susan and I were privileged to work with some pretty awesome authors who contributed fresh pieces to the anthology, including but not limited to:

Julia Sheeres (bestselling author of A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown)

Lucia Greenhouse (fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science)

Donna Johnson (Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir)

Mary Johnson (Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life)

Carolyn Briggs (Higher Ground: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost)

* * *

Tagged Authors:

Wendy Welch: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Jennifer Wilke: THEN now

Pam Helberg

Jolene Hanson: Jolene’s Life in Focus

Kari Neumeyer: Rhymes with Safari

The Fit School by Carol Frazey

Janet Oakley: The History Weaver