Surely I can’t be the first person to plug the misery of being a Cubs fan directly into the Alien franchise. Surely others have equated the feeling of some marauding beast bursting out of your chest with the feeling the Cubs have left fans with year to year over the last seven decades: Just when you think everything is fine, you’re wracked with body-shredding pain that comes out of nowhere, and you can only look at your bloody hands and the guts hanging out of the huge hole in your body as you fade into oblivion. Your last mortal vision is of a slimy, malevolent creature with the head of Dusty Baker or Lou Pinella emerging from the gaping wound, and you’re left thinking that’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! Unlike the victims in the Alien films, though, as a Cubs fan you get to experience the pain and carnage anew each year.
This unusual connection came to me a few weeks ago when I was chillin’ on vacation and happened to tune into Aliens on late night TV. I mentioned to the girlfriend that there will be a double fesature of Alien and Aliens playing in late October at a nearby drive-in theatre. We plan on taking in the sci-fi horror fun as the season turns to haunting. Usually, Cubs fans wouldn’t think twice about an October 22 night-time engagement. Why would we? So few of us were alive the last time late-late October meant anything that optimism has been bred out of our genes. But I had a nagging feeling that committing to the drive-in might not be a good idea. What if there’s an important World Series game that night? The thought of one involving the Cubs was so unexpected and so foreign to me that I was struck dumb. I had to check the playoff calendar! When has a Cubs fan ever seriously done that? But there I was fully believing that the Cubs were going to play in the World Series—and believing it with a degree of certainty I’ve never felt before when I thought about the northsiders.
It turns out there was no need to panic, and now life has returned to a calm restfulness not unlike the stasis the crew of Nostromo was experiencing before they touched down on LV-426. There is no World Series game scheduled for the night of the Alien double feature, so we can enjoy the horror and bloody carnage on celluloid before it has a chance to happen for real at the corner of Addison and Clark.
I rolled into Home Depot yesterday morning about 9:45 and picked up the Weber grill I bought Friday but needed the girlfriend’s SUV to pick up. The salmon and chicken were already thawing on the counter in the kitchen, and the potatoes only needed to be wrapped. It wasn’t long until I was at Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up some new bath towels and a garbage can. I ran into a few neighbors on the way back and boasted of my new disposal system. But I’m not some smug jerk who brags about something like that and lords it over my neighbofrom their new ownerrs or shows up to condo association meetings to talk about my new garbage can, so I encouraged them to stop by if they have something to throw away and want to try it out. I cautioned the girlfriend about the new bath towels. I knew I’d be at yoga when she rolled out of bed this morning, and she’d most likely have showered by the time I got back. As such, I asked her to keep quiet about the new linens, no matter how great or disappointing they might be. “I like to go in clear when it comes to new towels,” I told her. “So don’t spoil anything for me. I want to trust my basic instincts and first reaction.” I figured the towels deserved that in their new home and from their new owner. I was practically bursting at the seams throughout the afternoon with all the excitement from my new purchases. I got the grill put together and chilled out with a late-afternoon slow roast on the new apparatus. It was a good day, mostly.
I also ran a 5K at Independence Grove yesterday morning. Felt like shit. Couldn’t catch my breath. Came across in 26:50. This is thirty years of running slow and still somehow thinking I can get faster. When will running be enough without worrying about time? Probably after my next injury. Maybe I need to approach this like the Poem-a-Day Challenge and just get caught up in the grind of it and not worry about much else. I’ll think about it over the next few weeks, until I race again. Until then… my back is tired. My IT bands are tight.
I couldn’t think of much that would be more novel as a runner than to run down the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago the wrong way and in the middle of the street, and to do it twice. Hell, I don’t even want to walk down the Magnificent Mile most of the time. Thankfully, last Saturday morning the stretch was blocked off to traffic as a 5K and half marathon rumbled through. I didn’t want to pass up the chance since I’ll be relying on novelty to keep things fresh if I’m going to run thirty 5Ks, so there I was. If you have any questions about which race I was running, then you know too little about my size, my age, my perpetually tired back, and the piano wires I have for IT bands.
I wasn’t thrilled about the early start—7 A.M. is pretty early to be wedging yourself into starting corrals with 2,300 other sweaty runners, but the weather was cool and overcast. There was some mist in the air that was periodically turning into rain. It was classic Cross Country weather. I figured I’d get stampeded first thing since I was in the second corral and I never start fast enough to get out in front of a crowd, much less a massive mob. The staggered starts helped, though, and before I knew it I had turned onto North Michigan Avenue and was keeping a steady pace and feeling good. I was definitely digging the vibe of running through the retail heart of the city and across the river. My new shoes kept me feeling comfortable, and by the time I turned onto the home stretch I felt like I was doing better than I expected. I came across at 26:34, even though the race felt like it went by a lot faster than that. I checked results and saw that I finished 5th in my age division, which was totally unexpected. I’m still running varsity!
Sometimes when you run a whole messload of 5K races, especially on the same course, they fly by without you noticing much. Especially if nothing noteworthy happened during the race. That’s what happened last Saturday morning about 9 A.M. I was at Independence Grove again. As I remarked to a lady also running the race as she was scanning the course: I’ve raced there probably twenty times, and run there for fitness or fun or whatever probably thirty more times. I know the place. I know every way they can lay out a 5K, down to the point where I know if somebody measured the course wrong (btw… that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago–as I mentioned here! I went out and measured the course on my bike, and it came up at 3.2 miles).
So the gun went off, I went off, and twenty-six minutes and twenty-four seconds later I came across the finish line. I hit a good enough pace along the way and remember passing a few people, but I couldn’t catch a guy at the end who had walked directly in front of me the last quarter mile of the race. I hate when people do that and I can’t catch them. But I had been fighting a cold and the consequences of uneven sleep as I readjust to going back to school, so I’m not worried. My best racing is still ahead of me this year, and will remain so until it’s too cold to run. And despite my ambivalence about yoga, damn I’m glad I’ve been doing it. I rolled out of bed Sunday morning and felt like I was 56 instead of 46. Or perhaps I felt like most other 46-year olds feel on a frequent basis. I don’t know. I’m displaced regarding my actual age, my emotional age, how old I feel, how old I think I look, and how people my age are supposed to feel and look. The only thing I can think to do is keep running. And yoga helps one helluva lot to help me bounce back.
It was cool but oddly humid when the gun sounded at Great Lakes Naval Base at 7:15 yesterday morning. I was in a herd of 600+ runners who were running the 3 nautical mile course around parts of the base. There were a bunch of other runners somewhere else who were running the ten miles from Ft. Sheridan down the road to Great Lakes. The 3 nautical miles (3.45 land miles) would be enough for me, especially considering the thick air. I kept hearing rumblings about Hero Hill and whether it was still at the end of the course or had been taken off the course or if it had only been placed in a different spot. It was the latter. I hit it after the first mile and thought it might better be named Holyfuckingshit Hill. I couldn’t see the top of it most of the way up, which is kind of like real-life symbolism that would lend itself nicely to a poem. I wasn’t thinking about poetry, though. I was thinking about putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of how slowly that was happening. I thought about giving myself a break—I’m not 16 anymore. I’m not even 45.
I can thank my Cross Country coach who thirty years ago made us run up Big Bertha on a local golf course in preparation for running up Agony Hill at the New Prairie Cross Country Invitational. Part of the New Prairie course passed through a dried up river bed, and you had to climb Agony Hill to get out of the river bed.
Big Bertha was massive. It rose almost 50 feet in less than a of a quarter mile. We hated it after our first run up, and hated it exponentially more by our tenth run up, but it made us better and made Agony Hill manageable. I was thinking about Big Bertha and Agony Hill as I hit Hero Hill. A handful of naval officers stood beside the road and offered encouragement. There were a few signs along the way about what heroism actually is. I felt pretty good once I crested the hill, but that only lasted until the long, barren stretches that rounded out the course. Those long, barren stretches are tests, too. What are you going to do when the next turn is a point on the horizon that remains at a fixed distance no matter how fast you run?
Running is an existential crisis sometimes, but I made it through. I thought I could do the course in less than 30 minutes, but I’ll settle for 30:27. That damn hill put a dent in my time, but I finished in a real good place overall and in my age division. Guess I’ll keep going.
I guess this was bound to happen once I set the goal of cramming in a bunch of 5K races: I’d run into a few duds that were hardly worth the time or poorly managed. I didn’t think it would happen in back-to-back races on the same weekend, but it did. I guess it’s good to get the clunkers out of the way from the get-go so maybe it won’t happen later on.
I showed up to Independence Grove Saturday morning to run a race sponsored by the Urban Muslim Minority Alliance. It was supposedly their second annual. I was the first to arrive, and that included the people who were supposed to run the race. Nothing was set up–no course, no refreshments, nothing–and the person at the gate didn’t even know where the race was supposed to be. I finally found some people who appeared to be very young to be organizing a race, and they told me they were pushing the race back to “11 o’clock or noon,” depending on who shows up. Hadn’t I gotten the email or seen the Facebook page saying that they were delaying since the weather was bad? Well no, I hadn’t. Besides, there was no email. It was already 9:45, which is far too late to start a race in the summer anyhow. I decided to hell with it and went for a run, a crappy one at that, and went home. I’m still counting this as one of my 30, though.
I showed up to Indepedence Grove again this morning for A Walk to Remember, which in addition to being a walk one might keep in one’s mind, is also a 5K. They didn’t have the registration sorted out, and the bathroom situation was a disaster because some dude was sitting on the only toilet for a looooong time texting or whatever. I hoped it was more “texting” than “whatever.” Still, I was primed to run despite having run Saturday (I almost never run two days in a row… too old… too heavy…). It was beautiful running weather—overcast and cool. I got off to a great start and felt I was running my best race of the summer. It helped that Independence Grove is pretty much my home course, as I’ve discussed before. I came across the finish line after holding a few dudes off for the last half mile, and my time was a disaster despite feeling like I was really hauling ass. My guess was that the course was longer than 3.1 miles. I’d say it was 3.3 or 3.4. And I just now checked the results online and saw my time listed was 20 seconds slower than what I registered when I finished. So it seems like this thing was wonky pretty much all around, which is too bad.
So I got tangled up in a few crappy races that were poorly run. All you can do it keep running. I’m on pace to meet my quest thus far, so that’s a good thing. But my back is tired. Get used to hearing that. And I’ve got a strange, dull pain on the top of my left foot. Probably tendinitis. I’m about due for new running shoes, so maybe they’ll help. Most of all, I need yoga. If I don’t get it, my skeleton is going to jump out of my skin and go find a more caring and compassionate body to inhabit. I can’t blame it. So it’s yoga tomorrow after school lets out. But yoga? Yeah. For a few years now. It’s keeping me going. That’s not to say I like it much, which inspired a poem I crafted during the Poem-a-Day Challenge last year.
It doesn’t look like I love you, not with how
instead of cherishing our time together I count
the minutes until I can get the hell out of class.
I’m not conveying love when I grumble about
spending weekend mornings on the mat
instead of sleeping in or making an omelet.
I don’t give you proper due for how my shoulder
hinges likes it’s been oiled and rotates without
a hitch. You exorcised plantar fasciitis from
my feet with your “downward facing dog,”
or whatever it’s called. There are days
I’m lucky to be walking upright, right?
Do I have to proclaim it? Of course it’s because
of you, despite not packing much action or
making sweat fly or challenging me to best
my best time—because you reject my norms!
I’ll never say “I love you,” but you might think
you see it in how I flow through your forms.
Though there was a lack of research to counter the previous assertion about encouragement, there may have been research involved at some point along the way as the student constitution was drafted. I say “may have been” because some data was presented, though the source was never cited. It’s impossible for me to say whether the data came from qualified academic research, or whether it was educational philosophy that somebody packaged into an article in an education publication. Regardless, I could have searched for the article and discussed it with colleagues. Some things that were cited from the article were the benefits from a mere 1% increase in school climate. How was “school climate” quantified in the article? What concrete steps can we take in that direction to improve? None of those considerations came up when the research was referenced.
By the end of the presentation, the most our presenters did to suggest how to address school climate was to tell us we need to ask ourselves “What have I improved or contributed to today?” The assumption was that teachers don’t do that. It’s easy to see why students would think that since they don’t see the amount of reflection in which teachers engage with themselves and their colleagues. It doesn’t often happen in front of students, so if they don’t see it, for their intents and purposes it isn’t happening—unless someone knowledgeable about teaching takes the time to explain the reflection processes in which teachers engage and steer the presenters towards suggesting something more substantial and insightful. Then again, why were the students telling us what we needed to do? If it was their constitution, why weren’t they telling us what they were going to do?
As the presentation was wrapping up, someone in a position of authority told us “it’s not over” in regard to the presenters rolling out the student constitution. The following week, the group briefed other students who then visited homerooms to spread the word to the masses. Some of those deployed wore the official t-shirt that was crafted to promote the cause. Another push to promote the cause came through a few weeks later. Faculty gained clearance to show support by wearing the official t-shirt if we had bought one or accepted one when they were given out for free, and we could also wear jeans in what became an official “dress down” day. One colleague pointed out that the clearance to dress down was the same as what one student railed against when she was offended that a teacher bribed students with candy in exchange for favorable behaviors.
Ultimately, we don’t expect to see something sublime and transcendent when students come before us in a situation like they did when they presented their constitution. We rarely get something sublime or transcendent even from the professionals we hire. Plus, it’s absurd to think our students would rank with Tara Brown or Hal Urban, though our students have something that Brown and Urban don’t have: An authentic voice coming from the ground level. That voice is something we should be hearing frequently. As with any voice that wants to be heard, though, it needs to be measured and precise and not fired from the hip. Our students are naive about the world in so many ways, but that’s what you are when you’re seventeen or eighteen. We can no more hold that against them than we can hold it against the sky for being blue. Our students are also aware and ambitious, if misguided. That’s where we come in as teachers: We help guide them, and our job demands we put our all into guiding them as best we can. We have to know the territory and how to guide them through the pitfalls inherent in unfamiliar terrain. It’s an uncomfortable process—growth always is, and the only thing worse than limited or no growth is false growth. When students are left thinking that their accomplishments, whatever they might be, are insightful and meaningful, that any opinion they have is valid, that any perceptions are reality, we have wronged them. In the wake of all we’ve seen thus far about the student constitution, I’m reminded of how hard we need to work to be insightful and critical towards our students’ work, to question their opinions, and to demand they back them up in substantive ways, all so they know that that is how the world works. If we do this and familiarize them with the process, it will help them achieve excellence and accomplish something meaningful. We should also hope they’ll forgive us if we can’t help them recover this movement that has such potential for positive change in the climate in our building.