Archive for November 2012
I’m still running, and I guess if there’s anything that I’m Thankful for, it’d be that. I ran my 18th 5K of the year this morning, even though (shhhhh…) I wasn’t registered for it. When we did that back in high school, we called it “Bandit Running.” I guess I haven’t outgrown it yet.
I found out this year that I don’t handle the heat as well as I used to. The drought in the middle of the summer took its toll on my times in at least three races, and there were several more when I just plain felt out of it. I wasn’t breathing well, I felt sluggish, and I had recurring thoughts about whether or not I had met my Waterloo. More often than not, I found myself thinking that the only way I may be able to keep running is to run longer distances at a slower pace so I stop trying to beat myself each time I race. That lead to thoughts about whether or not I was the right size to run longer (I weigh 200 lbs, so I tend to break down if I go over four miles), and how changing my lifestyle to run longer might not even be possible. So the mechanics of my running were on my mind while I was running, which is the least opportune moment. Self-doubt does not make a good running partner.
What I needed all along was some retraining. I couldn’t feel my pace when I raced, and as a result running was feeling unnatural. I remedied this by getting someone to pace me on a bike so I could run a consistent speed throughout a run and focus on adjusting my breathing rather than thinking about whether or not I was keeping good time. It was the end of August when the thought hit me, and after 3 sessions with a pacer, I wished I had done it back in April. I remember announcing that I felt a change in my running and my summer of racing was about to break wide open, even if summer was almost over.
I was right. Throughout September, I went on a tear. I set personal records on three different courses on which I had raced several times, and turned in three of my four best times of the season. It all came to a head on September 22nd with a half mile left in a cold and rainy race in Waukegan. I had been in a small pack of runners for five or six minutes, but it thinned out as we turned and faced a long, steep uphill climb. Once we reached the top, we would turn directly into a stiff wind. I started thinking about who was saving themselves for the end, and who I had a shot at beating. I also could feel my training–I felt just as strong then as I had at the start of the race.
A woman next to me gasped, “Oh, no…”, which I took as my cue to leave her behind. Ahead of me, about a quarter of the way up the long rise, were two other runners. One was wearing Skele-toes and running sleeves. I took him to be a seasoned and dedicated runner, the same as the woman next to him, and got to thinking that if I didn’t overtake both of them right then, I might not be able to catch them by the finish.
I dug into the hill and drew even with them by the time we were three-quarters of the way up. I was pumping hard and breathing deep; the guy with the sleeves was wheezing and slowing his pace, and the woman was in stride with him. I left them behind, caught another person at the turn, and another as we ran head-on into the wind on the straightaway before we turned for the finish line.
The pack I had been with was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t hear any of them breathing or pounding the pavement behind me, but I wasn’t going to take any chances by not finishing hard. A guy passed me at the final turn, and he was hauling ass. I didn’t think about it. I wasn’t about to fight him to the finish line because he was going too hard and I had already done the most important things to me–conquer the hill, leave the pack behind, and run a consistent race without being flooded by self-doubt. Besides, I knew the guy was running like my former self: If he was running that hard at that point, then he must have held back and was now going for the glorious hard-charging finish. I was running a measured race at my optimum level, and there was nothing to prove. Racing a ghost of myself was only asking for an injury that would staunch my hot streak.
I kept everybody off my back except Mr. Sprinter, and crossed the finish line in 24:13, which was my second-fastest time of the year. Since then, I’ve run two other races close to that time, and set another personal record on a different course. Unfortunately, we’re about to get into bad weather season. 5ks are rare from now until April, so I’ll have to let this this come to an end. I’m glad to have run out the streak, though, and am thankful for still being able to do so.
Finally, I came across a poem recently by one of my favorite poets. It seems to me that it’s all about running. I can’t help but think, too, that it’s all about that Saturday morning two months ago when I faced the long up.
The Long Up by Kay Ryan
You can see the
land flattening out
near the top. The
long up you’ve faced
is going to stop.
Your eyes feast
on space instead
of pitch as though
you’d been released.
The measured pace
you’ve kept corrupts
with fifty yards
times as hard
against the blue.
Before you ask: No, I haven’t gone barmy. But I can attest that my students know best. Sometimes. Not half the time. Not even a quarter of the time. But sometimes.
This goes directly to my Creative Writing students. I have 25 of them this semester, and it’s the usual mix: About a third are keen on writing and have some natural talent and are totally digging things, about a third are in-betweeners who will work hard and improve their skills and enjoy some things along the way, and about a third are still reeling over how difficult the class is. Of that last third, about half of them will jump into the middle third so I’ll still have about 4-5 students who just aren’t going to do anything and take the consequences of lost credit further down the line.
Anyhow, we’ve been working on the major writing of the semester pretty hard-core for the last month. The major writing is 8-10 pages of prose. Everything ramps up to this, and that “everything” means some intensive study of setting and character and tons of free-writing. As we kick it off, I have students pitch four different ideas for stories they could write. Two have to be fiction; two nonfiction. The idea is that somewhere in their journals and minds they have ideas that can be developed, and having to express a few of them will help guide them as they start (and create a back-up plan if a story fizzles). Their classmates review their pitches and advise about the best or most interesting one.
I jump into this process and work with the students, not just advising them but by throwing in my own pitches and drafting a story as they draft theirs. I pitched four stories; my nonfictions were both sports-related (one about a basketball game I played at Skidmore two summers ago, the other about a race I ran in high school). My fictions included a story I started two summers ago but never finished. I was stuck for a second one, so at the last minute (in typical student fashion), I threw something out there based on something that actually happened to me–I accidentally stole a book from a bookstore when I was in high school. I thought I knew exactly which story was going to get the most votes for the one I should write (the basketball one), and I had already started writing it in my head because I was so certain of it. I was wrong. All my pitches got a vote from the group that reviewed them.
In what is atypical for me, I took the last-second one that I really only threw in so that I would have a complete assignment. One girl who read the pitch said she really liked it how I had portrayed the conflict, and that she was very interested to see how it would unfold. That was enough for me to start thinking about what it would look like as a piece of short fiction, even though I wasn’t terribly excited about it. I started drafting it, and I was about 500 words in when I started having fun with it. I shifted point of view from first person to close third person, and then the story really started to take off. I’m on draft eight right now, and have been getting plenty of sideways looks from my students each time we work in the computer lab. They can’t quite figure out why I’m chuckling to myself and sitting at a computer with a huge grin on my face as I write–even though I tell them to have fun while you’re writing!
We do a lot of work-shopping of the stories along the way, and I’ve benefited quite a bit from that, as well. Some students come up with stuff and make insights well beyond what I’ve taught them in class. For instance: I have a sophomore who told me that the opening of my story was too bland. But it was my 4th different opening! Rather than debate him or marginalize his comments (because he’s ONLY a sophomore… sheesh), I took the challenge and put the effort into creating a different opener. And… he was right. I came up with something much better. I have another sophomore who is dealing fluently with one of the most complicated plot structures I’ve ever had a student attempt. Where did she come up with that? Hell if I know! I don’t even try to teach plot. About the only things I tell students are that plot is the most difficult part of writing fiction (even the pros struggle with it), and to limit their plots to a short span of time and only a few characters because those considerations will make things easier.
So something is happening 6th period on a daily basis that has me pretty excited. Presently, I have to caution myself to not have too much fun or too many laughs while I’m writing my short story. The consequence right now is that it is producing writing that is less than what I’m capable of. The fun is outshining some of the weak points in the writing, and if I want to do anything with this story outside of Creative Writing class, I’ll have to sober up a bit and take a more serious approach. I think I can do that (???).
It’s a funny thing, writing.
The presidential election kept me up Tuesday night in a manner similar to how the baseball playoffs routinely do. I turned on CNBC the minute I got home from school and kept it on until there was a decision. Things started a little shakily for Obama, so there was some suspense until he finally pulled through. I was relieved to see him reach the necessary 270 electoral votes, which seemed to happen rather quickly once the East Coast states were finished reporting and things shifted solidly into the Midwest; I was just about as happy to see Obama win the popular vote. I had my doubts given Romney’s strong showing and the weight of the Presidential debates.
Throughout this whole process over the past year, I couldn’t quite figure out where George W. Bush was. If it was such a good idea to pull for the Republicans and embrace all that Romney was proposing (which, as we were reminded, bore a strong resemblance to what W did), then why wasn’t the face of the most recent Republican president part of the Romney campaign? The Democrats didn’t shy away from jumping into the way-back machine and bringing in Bill Clinton once things were smoothed over between him and Barack Obama, but I guess you have the luxury of doing that when your previous Commander in Chief was wildly popular and the nation thrived under his leadership.
In the end, the absence of W over the last year reminded of an important and hard-to-learn lesson about life: A lot can be said by what is not said at all. W’s face wasn’t part of the Republican campaign. His voice wasn’t used to endorse anything. His Secretary of State jumped party lines to back Obama. It felt for the most part like the Republicans pretended W doesn’t exist and was never really president. If they have so much to hide from the party’s past, what else are they hiding in the present and for the future? If I’m asking those questions (even thought I know the answers to them, for the most part), why should I cast my vote for their candidate?
Thankfully, I wasn’t up too late Tuesday night. When I made it to bed, I rested well.
I have a feeling that the Democrats will succeed again in 2016 with Hillary Clinton. She has the experience and savvy to lead the nation, and can sway women’s votes for her party in a way female candidates haven’t been able to in the past. There is baggage that will accompany a decision to put her at the front of the Democratic party and in the Oval Office, but the Dems will have to decide if her tremendous upside is worth the baggage and its consequences.
P.S. Views of last spring’s post about Ted Nugent’s anti-Obama rant went through the roof in the past week–139 hits! Thanks, Uncle Ted.