The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for July 2017

Thirty 5Ks: Done. And Farewell.

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This is how it ended:  It’s 9:35 A.M. last Saturday, and I’m sitting in the shade at some sidewalk cafe in Highwood, IL.  I’m hoping my heart’s frantic tempo will decrease, and no matter how soon it does it won’t be soon enough.  My t shirt is plastered to my chest.  My wristbands are practically dripping sweat.  I drank close to a gallon of water yesterday, and right now it doesn’t feel like it was enough.

Dave walks over, and he looks about as bad as I do.  He’s been at half of these races since last August, and we’ve come to know each other.  Dave’s friend, also named Dave, is sitting in the shade where I am, and there’s another guy.  Four guys, all well over 45, all considering the mortal implications of what we just did and what decisions we’ve made that have led up to this point in life.

“It’s humid like a motherfucker,” I say.  The others nod.

Dave says, “That’s wasn’t good.”  Dave, who routinely finishes in the top ten overall, or at least the top two in his age division.  If he struggled, what word do I use to describe my experience?  He adds, “Once the sun came out, forget it.  And the course felt too long.”

The guy I don’t know speaks up.  “Yeah.  My app measured it at 3.21 miles.  They had a timer at the first mile, but that was actually 1.3 miles.”

This is not how I envisioned the end of my quest to complete thirty 5K races, though I can’t say I envisioned anything specifically.  I really only thought about it ending because it had been 11 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days, and it was time to put it behind me.  It could have been over almost a month ago except for an ear infection that kept me out of a Valentine’s Day 5K.  Had I run that one, I wouldn’t be languishing in a pool of sweat and regret on a sidewalk in Highwood, IL.

Nonetheless, there I was.  My heart finally slowed, and I leaned back in my chair.  I wondered what my time was, but then didn’t care.  I smiled.  It was over.  I can stop arranging weekends around races.  I can stop keeping track of races on the dry-erase board in my office and counting down to zero.  I can stop writing about running.  I can’t say that I can stop worrying about completing my thirty because I’ve known I could do it since mid May when I hit the single digits of races remaining.  Now I can chill for a few weeks, maybe run a 5K here or there, and wait for fall when I truly love to run and when I get my best results.

The quest was not for naught.  No quest is, really.  There is wisdom to gain along the way, both worldly and personal.  How else to explain the timelessness of The Odyssey?  I thought a helluva lot about why I’m still running, and thought even more about how fortunate I am that I can still run.  I’m winking at you, Yoga, though don’t get a big head.    In the least, the last year has been a lesson in keeping on with life in a certain way, and gearing life to where I could keep on in that way.  I guess I was inspired by “Tangled Up in Blue,” which I always considered to be about keeping on with life despite the bumps and detours and unexpected breakdowns, and despite how clownish Dylan looks singing it in that video.

Thirty 5Ks meant that for an entire month of the year, I exercised vigorously.  I typically relax and go on “austerity,” as I call it, the day before a race, so for another entire month of the year I drank a lot of water and very little booze, ate no fried foods and very little other foods that are orgies of fat and calories, and got a lot of sleep.  It also meant that I ate a lot of Raisin Bran to keep myself “empty” before a race.  Thank you, Raisin Bran (both Post and Kellogg’s).

There have also been a lot of unusual courses that presented themselves only because I was running, and I appreciated the novelty of a lot of them:

  • Great Lakes Naval Station
  • Ft. Sheridan Army Base
  • Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago (the wrong way both ways)
  • Indiana School for the Deaf
  • seven different stretches of Lake Michigan lakefront
  • St. Mary’s Seminary (twice)

Most of those locations outside of the context of a 5K race would result in the introduction to a pair of handcuffs, or in the least permanent removal from the grounds.  I guess there were a few other bright spots along the way, like equaling my best adult time (24:40), and winning a pair of medals.

So what’s next?  Dunno.  Don’t care just yet.  A new age division is only a few years away, and I’ll consider myself fortunate if I can still run then.  In the immediate future, it means I won’t be writing about running, which is no doubt a relief to anybody still tuning in.

I’d donate them, but I wouldn’t want anybody to smell like that.

As for now, it’s time to bid farewell to a few pieces of running gear.  On the left above, a sweet tec shirt that I’ve worn for probably fifty races the last five years.  It’s super lightweight, and I’m told that because it’s so bright that I’m easy to see in a pack of runners.  The downside is that it smells permanently of running funk.  Even after it’s freshly laundered, the stench lurks just below the fresh detergent smell, like the fresh smell is doing all it can to keep the funk at bay.  Once I put in on, forget about it.  It takes about ten minutes before it smells like a bum’s nutsack, and that’s actually nice compared to what it smells like at the end of a race.  The other shirt has gotten almost as much wear, and is close to fading out completely.  It has been a go-to for cold-weather running and racing, and I’m actually afraid I won’t be able to find anything that has been as serviceable as it has been.  But it’s time to move on.  I’ve prided myself for a long time on being a bum runner, mostly wearing shorts for ten or twelve years and old t shirts so I can run on the cheap (I used the same pair of tights for seventeen years…), but enough is enough with these rags.

So I did a bunch of running.  I didn’t get much slower.  I wonder how long that will last.  Might as well find out, huh?

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Written by seeker70

July 27, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Cubs Fans: Settle the #@$& Down!

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The Chicago Cubs have won six games in a row!  Clear your calendar now so you have time to watch the World Series in October and see the Cubs hoist yet another championship banner!  You might as well call Merkle’s or The Cubby Bear or Murphy’s Bleachers or Yak-Zies and put down your $1200 to reserve a table so you can watch from Wrigleyville as the Cubs mutilate the _______ (insert name of hapless American League team).

Right.  Please.  Go ahead and do all of those things, and please tell me when you do so I can make a list of people who need a swift kick in the nuts.  Calm down, Cubs fans.  It’s only six in a row, and they all came against teams that were below .500, though Atlanta was .500 when the Cubs showed up at SunTrust Park.  If you want to be blindly ecstatic about anything, focus on the notion that all those wins came on the road, and for the first time this season the Northsiders swept two series in a row rather than vice-versa.  Otherwise, if you’re contracting an airplane to pull a banner over Chicago that reads “The Cubbies Are Back!”, save your money.  The Cubbies aren’t back.  They are slowly returning to where they should be this year but aren’t yet because of listless pitching, a few injuries, Joe Maddon’s bone-headed decision to bat Kyle Schwarber at lead-off, and management’s inability to find a solid lead-off hitter.

Still, one can’t help but feel the July heat and humidity is melting the ice that has locked the Cubs into mediocrity so far this season.   Let’s hope that the weather is the deciding factor here since it’s only going to get hotter in Chicago.  The Cubs picked up a new pitcher from across town and are looking to make a few more deals, but none of these things are a guarantee that the season is going to turn around to the point where we’ll find ourselves watching riveting baseball late into October.  The best things going for the Cubs right now are that the NL Central is weak, and that Milwaukee is destined to fade.  They are Milwaukee, after all, and have an inexperienced crew of players who are going to play inconsistently down the stretch.  These factors have already played heavily in the Cubs favor since they’ve moved from 5.5 games out of first place to 1 game out of first place in the week since the All-Star game.  To give you an idea of how tough the wild-card race is (i.e. the rest of the National League), the Cubs only gained one game in the wild-card standings in that span.

The Cubs’ next seven games come against sub-.500 teams, including the team with the worst record in baseball.  But these aren’t guaranteed wins since the teams are the Cardinals and White Sox.  If you want a feel for the intensity of those rivalries, go ahead and wear a Cubs jersey on the south side or in downtown St. Louis—you’ll wish for my swift kick in the nuts for over-celebrating instead of what you’ll get.  The best we can hope for is that the Cubs further the post-All Star break win streak.  Maybe they can put a foot on Redbird necks and keep it there for the rest of the season, and remind Southsiders why life is better north of the Eisenhower.  I’ll consider the next week successful if the Cubs come out 4-3.  Even 5-2 seems realistic.

We’ll know a lot more in about three weeks.  After next week, the Cubs play nine in a row and twelve of fifteen against division-leading or wildcard-leading teams.  So gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Cubbies.  Despite the recent success, the critical numbers remain anemic for a team with World Series potential.  The starting pitching has an ERA of 4.47, which is 7th in the National League (they were first last year with 2.96).   The team BA is .245, which is 13th (!) in the National League (they were 6th last year with .256).  Cubs pitchers barely register in the top twenty in wins, ERA, and K.  No batter is in the top twenty in BA, and only two are in the top twenty in RBI and HR.  Think the Cubs can use stategery and manufacture runs?  Maybe break something open on the base paths?  Don’t hold your breath.  They have stolen 31  bases this year (14th in the NL).  Their OBP looks good, but their lack of RBIs kinda pulls the rug out from underneath that (420; 9th in the NL).  Think about all this, and you’ll probably see why Cubs fans need to calm the #@$& down.

Written by seeker70

July 21, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

All Kinds of Crazy Shit–Including Yoga

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A lot of my writing life is spent waiting for something to happen.  Perhaps it only seems that way, but it feels like time drags by when I’m not writing something.  When the situation reaches terminal velocity, I find things to do other than write.  Like play a shitton of NES Classic.  Or watch Netflix.  Or god forbid, I actually clean the house.  The absence of any  substantive writing happening is almost palpable, even though I know it’s all in my head.  The thing is that writing is one of my barometers.  Along with teaching and running, writing is one of those things that indicates how life is really going.  I frequently tell my students that those three barometers are quite important to me, and I work consistently to assure that each one is tuned and operational.  When one isn’t, the other two can make up for that.  So if I’m not writing well, then having a good day in the classroom or having a good run at the forest preserve can help bring the writing back in line.  I can’t count how many  times in the last fifteen years that a good morning 5K breaking through with a poem or story has boosted my teaching.  It’s only a three-pronged system, but it’s complicated and goes through all kinds of mutations and permutations even day-to-day sometimes, but I know it’s my system and I know I have the power to push all three factors in the direction I need to.

So what to do in the summer when I’m not teaching, I feel like crap when I run, and I’m not writing anything that I’m excited about?  It’s a question I’ve been facing down since school got out a month ago.  I rely so heavily on the three barometers, but what do I do when they’re out of whack or essentially unreachable at some points?  Gut it out, I guess, and wait for something to break through.  I wrote last week about finally turning a corner last Tuesday in my quest for thirty 5Ks, and I think that may have been what did it to get me out of my funk.  On Wednesday, I had a good day of writing on my writing date—I forced myself to stay seated, even when I was plenty ready to leave, and crap out the first draft of a flash fiction that came to me by way of the seed journal—and then on Thursday I returned to tutoring for the first time this summer and had a good session with my student in the adult literacy program where I volunteer.  Before I knew it, the ice was cracking and thawing, and I almost felt back to my regular self.

Here’s the thing, though:  I wasn’t really trying to do any of those things.  All three are part of my summer routine.  They are things I pretty much do instinctively.  Friday morning came around, and I was feeling better about life.  I got to thinking about the crappy flash fiction as I was driving to yoga class.  What I could possibly do with the story?  Most likely, it would just be good practice and nothing would probably come from it.  But then I struck a pose about a half hour later and it was like a bell rang in my  head.  I realized my story needed a solid closing image to leave the reader thinking.  It even came to me what the image should be.

Now I’m starting to think that I have the whole “three barometers” thing wrong.  I’m starting to think that it’s not teaching, running, and writing that do it for me.  I’m thinking that it’s yoga, and I’m just now realizing after four years how yoga feeds all three of my barometers.

This is not an easy thought for me because I don’t like yoga.  I only do it so I don’t keep getting tendinitis from running.  And so I can keep my shoulders fit and operational.  And so I can have a healthy stretch and maintain some decent degree of flexibility.  And to calm down sometimes.  And to be mindful of my body.  And to feel solid physical balance.  In fact, I don’t like yoga so much that I wrote a poem about how much I don’t like it.  Plus, I don’t like the idea of my life hinging on one factor because it’s not one thing that goes right that makes everything else go right.  Feeling content with life comes down to keeping the positive things happening and keeping a healthy balance among all things positive, negative, joyous, or stressful (shut up, I know:  “yoga helps you maintain your balance” said every yoga instructor ever).

Here’s also why it’s not all about the yoga:  If I hadn’t read Adam O’Fallon Price’s “A Natural Man” in The Paris Review Thursday evening last week, the breakthrough with my story would never have happened at yoga Friday morning.  Have I mentioned that you constantly read stuff when you’re a writer because that’s what writers do?  So even when they’re not writing, writers are reading and thinking on what they read and how what they read is going to inform what they are writing or what they will write.  And I happened to be at yoga when I was thinking of the stunning final image in Price’s story, which is a good thing because yoga is renowned for opening one’s mind and encouraging one to explore and accept thoughts and ideas, coincidentally while a body is working through sun salutations and downward dogs and chaturanga dandasanas.  So it’s a combination of things that balance my life, and I happened to hit the right combination at the right time because I’m too stubborn to give up on things when I get frustrated.  Spin the roulette wheel enough times and every number comes up, right?  That’s kinda what I was doing by waiting the situation out.

So I guess if nothing else I’ve discovered that my three barometers are intact, functioning, and reliable, and yoga can help me get through and maintain if my barometers are faulty.  I’m happy to have that wisdom just now since I turn 47 today.  No answer yet as to how I have gotten this old this fast.  I’m closing in on my quest for thirty 5Ks (one left!), and feel physically as well as I can expect to feel for my age, activity level, and eating and drinking habits.  Hell, I can walk upright!  That’s something!  And finally, I found out just yesterday that the crappy piece of flash fiction that I found a good closing image for is going to be published.  More on that in the next few weeks.  I subtitled my last blog post “Sometimes You Just Gotta Believe,” and I guess that applies as much to this post as it did to the last one.

Written by seeker70

July 1, 2017 at 6:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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