The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Thirty 5Ks… #24-28 (Sometimes, You Just Gotta Believe)

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I have felt like shit lately.  Like shit shit.  Bad shit.  Dog shit.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Dirty Harry Callahan, it’s that a lot of things can happen to dog shit.  It can be scraped up with a shovel off the ground.  It can dry up and blow away in the wind.  Or it can get stepped on and squashed.  I have been preferring any of those this last month instead of running.  And it’s easy to see why.  I’m worn out from the school year, I’m fighting humidity some races, and I’m coming into the months when I traditionally run like shit because I’m out of my usual school-year workout discipline.  It’s not a good time to be trying to wrap up this challenge.

“So take my advice and be careful…”

Not that how I feel matters.  Anything short of an injury is an excuse.  So regardless of how slow I’ve run, how crappy I’ve felt, and how many times I’ve stopped for water, or just plain stopped in the case of last Saturday’s race (I think it was called Run For Humidity, or Humidityfest 5K), I’ve still gotten out there.  But why?  Why go out there when I don’t feel like running?  Why go out there when I’m slowly feeling my mortality?  Dunno, exactly.  It’s what runners do, and some of them do it to the point of injury.

I don’t want to be injured, of course, but I also don’t really want to run.  And I especially don’t really want to run a 5K that supports a church, though I have in the past.  That didn’t stop me from trekking up to Walworth, Wisconsin last night for a twilight 5K to benefit a church.  The only thing I was looking forward to was that it was going to be a “fun run,” so no number, no medals, and no exact timing.  I guess, too, I was interested in putting #28 behind me at whatever cost.

Things didn’t start well.  I’ve been fighting a stiff and inflamed shoulder tendon from paddle boarding, and then found that I was having back cramps when I stepped out of my car.  My warm-up felt like I was running underwater, and my attitude was crap.  Still, the gun sounded and I was off with a bunch of people who looked like they were a lot happier to be out there than I was.  One woman was so daring that she ran the race barefoot.

I felt like I was pretty deep into the run when I figured there wouldn’t be a water station.  That was okay with me because I didn’t want the temptation to stop.  Then I came around a corner and down a straight stretch, and there was a water station.  Why would they put it so deep into the course?  Well, they didn’t.  A sign next to the station designated that we were at the halfway point.  Crap.  Crappity-crap-crap.

I took water, which I almost never do, and I guess it was a baptism.  I resumed my pace like I hadn’t stopped at all, and suddenly felt…  better.  Almost good.  Was it the power of the Lord emanating from the church?  I don’t know.  I don’t care what it was, actually.  I only care that at long last I felt good late in a race.  Maybe it was a reserve of adrenaline that had been dammed up inside me and finally broke loose.  Maybe my brain was telling me that it’s time to stop moping about getting older and being tired and blah blah blah.  My breathing was steady, my head was up with my eyes focused far ahead of me, and I didn’t feel a lick of discomfort from my shoulder or back.  I crossed the finish line a full minute faster than I have for the last few races, and tried not to exacerbate my shoulder and back problems by patting myself on the back.  I was glad I stuck it out and kept going, and happy to remember what running does for your head.

I’ve got two more races before I wrap this up, one in just three more days.  I don’t know when #30 is going to happen because of other summer plans, but I’ve still got plenty of time to get it knocked out before the clock expires on this year-long quest.

Written by seeker70

June 21, 2017 at 9:32 am

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The U2 Dilemma, Solved

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Photo courtesy of the lovely Heather Barnfield.

I was wrangling with a bit of a crisis three months ago when I blogged about U2 touring for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree.  It seemed all I needed to do was announce the crisis in order to address it, and address it I did Sunday night.  I had decided shortly after my last post about the band formerly known as Feedback that I was going to take a chance and attend the concert.

The risk all along was that U2 (or more specifically, Bono) would turn in a crap effort.  I feared it would be a smoldering mess, and I didn’t much care to think that I would be reminded of said mess each time I listened to The Joshua Tree.  I tried not to think about that throughout the day Sunday as the girlfriend and I trekked down to Soldier Field and set up a tailgate.  I thought for a brief time that we might not see the concert since I had frustrations finding some decent scalped tickets, but things have a way of working out when you have the right attitude and you’ve got some ticket-scalping savvy.  We ended up in the press box without paying much more than we would have for general admission, and on our way to the suite I told myself that if someone questioned our journalistic gravitas that I would say, “Hey, I’ve got this blog I’ve written for the last nine years!”  Fortunately, it never came to that.

I had envisioned U2 diving right into the mystic soundscape that starts the album, and was ready for just that as we settled into our comfy office chairs and listened to the sounds of the opening act drift through the open windows.  However, U2 had different ideas.  They came out onto a thrust stage and played a few pre-Joshua Tree hits before retreating to the main stage and opening things up in front of a huge screen (I read it was 200′ x 45′).  Them not starting right into The Joshua Tree was my only disappointment.  Once they did get into it, magic happened.  They worked in front of a constant stream still photographs, short videos, and stylized black-and-white shots of them playing, all of which tuned into the original artwork of the album.  Perhaps most importantly, they kept their standard four-man setup and played largely without interrupting themselves.

It occurred to me shortly into the experience that the notion of touring for album anniversaries has a tremendous upside.  The reason being, the band hones themselves to a singular sound or era of their sound that they had previously mastered and had great success with.  It makes for a more cohesive experience than a vaguely connected series of new songs and old hits that are the staple of a lot of concerts.  I realized that was why I loved seeing The Who play Quadrophenia in 2012.  It was the best I had seen them, before or since.  It was the same way with U2 last night.

I found myself fully engrossed by the time the band got through the three top hits at the start of The Joshua Tree.  I knew we were witnessing something special, and I was glad for that “warm-up” before U2 got into the blistering guitar rage of “Bullet the Blue Sky,” the most politically charged song on the album, and a perfectly intact remnant of the band’s youthful anger and rebellion.  I liked what Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune said about “Bullet” and the song it preceded:  “There was no way to improve the one-two punch of ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ as the Edge’s guitar violence melted into the hushed junkie prayer ‘Running to Stand Still.'”

Kot also thought that “Exit,” later in the playlist, “…strained to make an impression as something more than a psychodrama… and served as a poor introduction for the mourning song ‘Mothers of the Disappeared.’”  It’s not right that he faults the song or the band’s treatment of it for not doing something that it was never intended to do, or that he marks it down for being psychodrama.  It’s the fact that the band takes the psychodrama and finds a way to make it fit with the rest of the album’s soundscape that makes “Exit” one of my favorites.  And lyrically, it’s not some cliche treatment of disturbing psychosis.  It’s edgy and uncomfortable; you don’t leave the song feeling a sense of redemption or hopefulness, and it’s fine the song does that on an album that otherwise doesn’t feature many other similar experiences.  Kot also lobbied for some reshuffling of the album tracks for better cohesion, which misses the point that it was The Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary tour, not The Joshua Tree Remixed tour.  Kot can say what he wants, but those perceived deficiencies never stopped The Joshua Tree from earning tremendous accolades when it was released, nor have they done much, if anything, to dislodge The Joshua Tree from it’s place in rock history.  Still, regarding “Exit,” U2 nailed the gritty desperation in the song, abandoning the still shots and short videos to focus on Bono and flashes of white light and deep darkness as he worked through the song.  The band appeared to have given a lot of thought to the song, and it got a strong treatment, moreso than what they gave it thirty year ago in Rattle and Hum.

Ultimately, the concert was excellent beyond my greatest imaginings, but it’s not going to bring me back to being a U2 fan.  It will take a lot more than that, though more efforts in the future like The Joshua Tree and Unforgettable Fire could tilt me in that direction.  But my intention in going was never to reassert my fandom—it was to put a cap on a resounding aspect of my personal pop culture / media experiences.  Mission accomplished.  So where to from here?  Dunno.  And I don’t care to know.  I just saw my favorite album played with superb quality by all the original writers and musicians in the band.  I’ll be happy with that for a long time, and remember it at least as often as I listen to The Joshua Tree in the future.

Written by seeker70

June 5, 2017 at 11:21 pm

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Thirty 5Ks…#21-23 (The Blessed Single Digits)

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The chiropractor told me last week that my hips were out.  Like, pretty far out.  And not in the groovy way, baby.  More like the right hip was in Waukegan and the left hip was in Round Lake.  And then she asked what the hell happened, and I pulled the list out of my pocket:  I’ve been running, I’m getting older, I’m drag-ass tired from the school year, and I weigh 200+ pounds.  Thus, my hips are out.  It was a good time to talk about avoiding injury, and for me to remember that a lot of athletic injuries are caused by poor form and exhaustion, and exhaustion can cause poor form.  So what to do?  Keep running, of course.  Duh.

Actually, if not for being on this quest, I would have laid off running 5Ks by now.  I usually do at this time of year because of the stress and exhaustion from the previous 8 months of teaching.  When I don’t let up, I get about halfway through a race and start wondering what the hell I’m doing, how I’m going to get to the end, and why has every force in the universe conspired against me to make me feel like crap?  And then I wonder why I hyperbolize so much, and thinking about that pretty much helps me get through the race.  I usually feel like crap at the end and am unduly sore for a few days afterward.  So yeah, this is a good time of year to not be running.  But I have been.  I ran more 5Ks in April than any month so far, and that meant doubling up two weekends in a row so I can knock my thirty down to a manageable number, and then into single digits well before the school year is over.  And of course all that meant that I’m still tired and not running very well.  And I’m courting injury.

“Everything is against me… Nothing is going right for me.”

Thankfully, other runners know your pain and frustration.  Sometimes they don’t mind if you draft off them if you’re lucky enough to find someone running the right pace for you.  That’s what I did when I was knocking out #23 two weekends ago.  Under normal circumstances, I’d probably be facing prosecution if I chased a middle-aged woman through Lincoln Park.  In fact, given the state of Chicago policing, I’d probably have a bunch of crimes pinned on me and would be tortured until I confessed to them.  Nonetheless, there I was a few steps behind and at times abreast of a women in her fifties who was running with headphones on.  The pace was slower than what I usually maintain, but I wasn’t caring about time so much as I was caring about getting through the race and getting one step closer to thirty.  She pulled ahead by thirty or forty feet after two and a half miles, and I didn’t have it in me keep up.  I did thank her at the end, though, for pacing me.  She said she was happy to oblige, and had herself paced off others numerous times when she wasn’t quite feeling a running groove.  I recalled being the inadvertent and unintentional pacer for a guy who finished behind me at Great Lakes late last summer.  I didn’t even see him throughout the race, but he tracked me down at the end and told me thanks for setting the pace for him.

I frequently think about what it is about running that makes runners so stubborn and disciplined, and many times it comes back to how you learn self-sufficiency early on when you start running.  Nobody is going to be out on the course pulling or pushing you along.  You have to do it yourself.  While that may be true, the race two weekends ago was a good reminder that it’s not so lonely out there sometimes.

Written by seeker70

May 22, 2017 at 2:13 pm

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Thirty 5Ks… #18-20 (inescapable truths)

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“Viral diarrhea,” my high school Cross Country coach said thirty years ago, “stops for no man.”  I thought that surely he wasn’t talking to me.  I could barely run, and I certainly couldn’t run fast enough to catch viral diarrhea.

Boy, how I wish I had listened.  It took me thirty years, but I finally caught it.  And boy, did it run it’s course.  It left me as a weakened, dehydrated shell of my former self who was afraid to pass gas for fear of passing something far more sinister.

But I’m over it and back on the quest, despite running a mere week after the affliction and feeling weak, hot, and just bummed out in a way I never feel when I run.  Musta been the viral diarrhea.  I can’t help but feel my mortality, too, the feeling of which seems to be as inescapable as my shadow since I tripped past the halfway point between forty and fifty last summer.  I can’t bounce back from sickness like I used to, and that is most obvious in how I can or cannot command my physical self.  Fear not, though.  I’m still stubborn.  That may be the everlasting gift from all this running.  So despite running a ragged, slow race two weeks ago, I laced up my Asics twice last weekend.  It wasn’t really about the time, though I fared better two weeks out from viral diarrhea than I had only a week removed from it.  It was more about this quest and getting my goal down to a manageable single digit before school lets out for the summer.  As it stands right now, I have ten more races to do within ninety-seven days.

This has absolutely nothing to do with running.

One thought that sustained and inspired me as I worked back into form from viral diarrhea was that the writers and producers of Orange is the New Black may have finally capitulated and given up their no good show-ruining flashbacks.  I read two weeks ago that the new season will take place over the span of three days.  It seems unlikely that new characters will be introduced, and the action in the prison is so intense just now that maybe the whole thirteen-episode will unwind through total forward momentum.  I can’t think of a better thing they could do with the series, and lobbied for such a few years ago when I was thinking about OITNB.  If this comes to fruition, maybe we’ll be looking at the best season to date of the series.  I hope so.

The actress who plays the profile character Piper (yawn) said what is the most reassuring thing anybody has said about the series:

“I think the stakes are higher in this season than they have been in a while just by virtue of the compressed time and seeing people in compressed circumstance really raises the stakes.”

The idea of forward momentum and compressed time and unity of setting were all hard lessons learned by me as a writer, and they are definitely what I mandate as a Creative Writing teacher, so I can’t wait to see what happens.

*I used the term “viral diarrhea” five times in this blog post.

Written by seeker70

April 25, 2017 at 7:53 pm

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Wait ‘Til This Year

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Such words, I’m sure, have hardly ever been spoken by Cubs fans.  At least not after June most years, last year being the exception.  But, I’ll say them:  Wait ’til this year.  I think the Cubs can do it again.  I’m not willing to bet on it just yet, but I’m feeling optimistic.  But it’s a long season, and a lot of things can happen.

First, the Cubs didn’t win the World Series by accident, mostly.  It was carefully plotted by the owners and the general manager over the course of several years, and it wasn’t merely a matter of finding the right coach and the right players.  They had to fight the fan base and slay the horrible nostalgia dragon, which I’ve written about before herein.  They accomplished that, though, and having the right players and the mostly right manager helped put the whole puzzle together.  Going to a Cubs game is a different experience these days, evidenced by a change in fan behaviors and the physical geography of Wrigleyville.  It was a matter of taking the team and the fan base to rehab, and after their 28 days not only going back home but creating all kinds of different routines and habits that wouldn’t lead back to the same-old same-old.

So I said the “mostly” right manager.  Check your baseball sources, and you’ll see that Joe Maddon did plenty in the post-season last year that could have caused the Cubs to lose.  He ain’t no calculating Tony LaRussa or cunning and conniving Earl Weaver, but he is a respectable baseball mind even if his mind sometimes runs astray.  He has a luxury in being able to experiment with things because he has the talent stacked behind him that can make up for his mistakes.  His latest experiment is abandoning speed at the top of the order in favor of power.  I’m not in favor of it because I’m more of a traditionalist in terms of how you line up your batters.  Even right now, as I’m watching Game 1, the Cardinals are leading because of their speed.  I won’t be surprised if that holds and the Cards win, nor will I be surprised if speedy teams or teams with excellent managers beat up on the Cubs this year.  I’m looking at you, Dodgers and Giants and Mets and Cardinals.

But team speed won’t be the sole deciding factor.  Earl Weaver probably said it best years ago when he addressed team speed:

“Team speed for chrissakes, you get fuckin’ goddam little fleas on the fuckin’ bases, getting picked off, tryin’ to steal, gettin’ thrown out, takin’ runs away from you, get them big cocksuckers that can hit the fuckin’ ball out the ballpark and ya can’t make any goddam mistakes.”

So teams don’t necessarily need speed, though it is a luxury that can get you out of a lot of trouble throughout a season, especially in the playoffs.  Still, no matter how fast your team is, or how many home runs they hit, they won’t go any further than their pitching can take them.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the White Sox or the Brewers or the Cubs—pitching still dominates.  Thankfully the Cubs have plenty of it, even if they are a bit testy in the back end of the bullpen as the season opens.  And regardless of how good the pitching is that they will face, the opposition will still have to face Schwarber, Bryant, and Rizzo more than they face anybody else in the Cubs lineup.  That trio at the top of the order will win the Cubs a lot of games.  Hopefully Joe Maddon won’t screw things up from there, though I won’t be surprised if at some point Javier Baez is batting lead-off and the trifecta of S-B-R drops into the traditional 2-3-4 spots.

I don’t quite know why I’m worrying about things like this right now.  I guess I’m just glad baseball is back and I don’t have to wade through anymore ridiculous pre-season crap.  It’s all good now, but I won’t really pick up the baseball spirit until mid-summer, after my interests in soccer have played out and I can sit and watch (and listen!) to games on a consistent basis.  There will be plenty of games left to watch, and hopefully I can continue into late October.

Written by seeker70

April 2, 2017 at 10:46 pm

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Thirty 5Ks… #16 and 17 (Doesn’t everybody think about racing for St. Paddy’s Day?)

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A few weeks ago, I was thinking that it would be no mean feat to run a 5K in Chicago on the day the city designated to observe St. Patrick’s Day.  I expected the relief stations to be stocked with Jameson instead of water, and was prepared to hurdle piles of green puke.  Turns out I was thinking too much of the typical Chicago St. Paddy’s Day celebration when I should instead have been concerned about the weather.  It was below freezing with wind chills in the teens when I showed up in Lincoln Park three Saturday’s ago.  The only good thing going was that the sun was out, and thank St. Paddy himself that I was wearing black tights and a black sweatshirt.  They were two of the three protections I had against the cold, the third being heating myself up by actually running.

It wasn’t pretty.  The wind along the lake pelted everybody for half the race.  I could never normalize my breathing since the wind was pressing against my chest so much.  Thankfully, there was no snow or ice to deal with, and only one homeless person to work around who was entrenched in the tunnel we ran through underneath Lake Shore Drive.  It was around the halfway point when I started to ask myself why the hell I was still trying to run thirty 5Ks.  Hadn’t I given up the quest two and a half months prior after a stellar Christmas Day race?  Hadn’t I decided that outdoor runs were too infrequent and too taxing on my body throughout the winter?  Hadn’t I come to my senses?  Well, no, I hadn’t done any of those things.  I might have thought about them, but being a runner means you’re stubborn.  So there I was, packed beneath a thick sweatshirt and plodding along the shores of Lake Michigan, wondering why I hadn’t slept in and stayed warm and picked the quest back up at some other time when the winds weren’t howling and I wasn’t more concerned with where The Girlfriend and I were going to go to get our St. Paddy’s on.

Races come to an end, though, and that one certainly did.  I finished in decent time, considering I’m still the kid who was the slowest runner on the Angola High School cross country team back in ’86-’87.  The best thing that came from the race was that I finally reached past the halfway point with this absurd idea to match races with the number of years I’ve been running.  The sun rose again two Saturday’s ago, and The Girlfriend and I drove down to Deer Park for another St. Patrick’s Day-themed run.  Similar weather conditions, though not as cold.  There was a lot of wind, and twice as many runners.  I wasn’t hopeful about my results, but I broke the finish line at 26:46, fifth in my age division, and then I dodged broken glass.  Some genius had the idea to give away pint glasses to finishers.  You picked yours up at the finish line, and though you probably wouldn’t have been swilling Jameson as you ran, some post-race symptoms are similar to having done that–the jitters, the unsteadiness on your feet.  The urge to puke.  So people dropped their glasses and they broke.  Others glasses got knocked off tables or blown over.  The race wasn’t billed as being on a challenge course, but it ended up that way.  I was happy to make it home with my pint glass intact, but the second I went to wash it I saw a crack down the side of it.  I introduced it to my recycling bin.

Oh well.  I got in a pair of races at a time much earlier than I usually resume running outdoors, and turned in a pretty good time at one of them.  I feel good about keeping after myself with fitness and staying at least near running condition over the winter.  Now the goal is to knock this quest down to the single digits before summer, and hopefully put it to bed long before August happens.

Written by seeker70

March 28, 2017 at 12:22 pm

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How I’m Managing, or What I Think About When I Think About Trump (pt.2)

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…continued from yesterday…

My research didn’t come out of the blue.  Given what was happening on the political scene last year at this time, it seemed  that a major candidate from one of the parties was saying or doing something that smacked of arrogance on a daily basis.  I found myself flashing to thoughts of Dan most every day last year as this ugly scene unfolded.  The things he said still rang clearly in my head.  Finally, I looked around on the internet.

What I didn’t know at the time of my interview with Dan was that I was talking with the Indiana Teacher of the Year for 1995.  Also, Dan had collected further acclaim as a Milken Educator for some innovating pedagogical strategies he developed and implemented in the Evansville school district.  The Milken Awards people refer to their recognition as the “Oscars” of teaching and seek out “…early-to-mid career education professionals for their already impressive achievements and, more significantly, for the promise of what they will accomplish in the future.”

Eventually, Dan left Indiana all together and took a position as a principal at a high school in South Carolina.  He lasted nine years before somebody tested him on the claim he made to me about knowing how to cheat.

I discovered that for his final two years as a principal, Dan changed two hundred and fourteen grades for thirty-three students.  According to what I read, grades were changed from failing to passing, and Dan said he did it to provide motivation to students he felt had worked hard and deserved a break.  His considerations did not, however, include his district’s policies for changing grades.  At least one teacher complained about this to the right people, and those people concluded through an investigation that Dan had done exactly what the teacher accused him of doing.  He not only broke district policy, but state law.  The superintendent demanded Dan resign, and he did.  He later surrendered his administration credentials to the South Carolina Department of Education.

None of this surprised me when I read it last year.  I was actually pleased in many ways.  I could list about ten administrators I’ve known in my career who I’d like to see get caught for stunts they pulled.  Invariably, their reasoning comes back to the most tired excuse in public education:  Trying to help students.  By a cursory examination of the numbers alone, Dan changed six or seven grades per student, and could have wiped out an entire semester or academic year of failing grades for a student.  It’s unclear to me how that helps a student, except in the immediate circumstance of them failing and potentially not graduating.  However, the consequences of Dan’s decision are tremendous.  He completely nullified the judgment exercised by the teachers who saw those students every day, and ignored the standards those teachers set.  Plus, students got the idea from an authority figure that they can work around difficulties in their lives.  I could go on and on about this issue, but suffice it to say illicitly changing grades is a serious offense.  That’s why school districts have substantive policies in regard to how it’s done, and why states have laws that apply to how it’s done.

It’s not uncommon for teachers to have a strong bent towards social justice, and I am no exception in that regard.  I want to see things done the correct way and according to policies that I am mandated to follow, and it bothers me when people who are in leadership positions flaunt authority and act with impunity.  It seems I wasn’t the only one bothered by Dan’s unprofessional and unethical behaviors (I never thought I was, not with how blatant he was with me over a mere few hours of interaction), but finally somebody stepped up and Dan had to face the consequences for his selfish, short-sighted decisions.  There was overwhelming, irrefutable evidence of him going too far.  I cling to this thought and to the understanding that our country in many ways is built on the idea of accountability and fairness from the top of the government all the way down to the private citizen.  I’m heartened by the fact that Dan was caught and punished, and I’m hoping that more of the same happens at a much higher level in regard to someone who seems to have been a role model for how Dan conducted himself.


Written by seeker70

March 14, 2017 at 9:16 pm

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