Thursday, September 1, 2016
as we approach a new back-to-school season and the constant evaluation and feedback and lists and notes, it is imperative to note the current state: failure. i have spent the last seventeen years in this city, and i have failed to succeed in it. in all its concrete and dirty alleys and beautiful parks and winding singletrack, the city has spit me out like a used pallet in the don at springtime. and now i'm good for nothing but a seagull perch. i hate seagulls.
the realization of failure is important. i understand it because my recent fascination with knives and forest adventure and 'bushcraft' skill is merely a pursuit of agency in a city that took all of mine from me. i want to play in the trees and make stuff with really nice knives and a minimum of cord. reading that statement, you will see the most important part: i want..to make stuff. in seventeen years of living in this town, i failed to make stuff. i had a really big photograph that i shot on commission, had custom-framed, and showed in a swank restaurant on king west. it was stolen from me by deadmau5, a dj who makes more in a night than i will in two years. speaking of making money: i can't even hold down a job. two degrees and thousands of hours of experience seem to mean nothing here. secret handshakes from old boys' clubs, old money, and the relentless pursuit of status upgrade are the way. those are not skills i know. i did not learn them. i failed.
i made my family here. i got my education here. i worked and worked and worked here. i grew up here. i became the best me i could here. i learned how to run here. i built bikes and rode them here. if you ask me where i'm from, i'll usually say here. my whole life is here. and i still live paycheque to paycheque, i still barely make the rent, i still don't have a million dollars or a secure job or a place to do the things i love. there is nowhere my art may be done, or may hang. there are no woods to play in or places to build forts where a bylaw won't kick us out. and everywhere, from the door to door scammers to the parking cops to the raccoons and seagulls, there is something trying to take my happiness away. and my happiness is eating breakfast right now with her mouth closed, mostly, and my other happiness is folding the laundry, and they love it here. this place is their place, born and raised, and they make it beautiful. they don't know that i can't make the rent every time, or that i'm a failure at the age of 35, or that knives can be anything other than tools. they know the best of me.
so while my knives sit in boxes on my dresser, and my cameras gather dust because i don't have the guts to use them, i will plan a new day in a town that neither loves nor hates me; it just doesn't care. happy september.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
i ran like an arrogant ass.
when people would talk about their race goals, i would feign interest. i cared that they were trying to run a marathon in under four hours. it was important that they had gotten off the couch and were going to finish their first 10k. inspiring others by run-walking in all pink for a good cause was nothing to take lightly. and yet, smug in my undertrained mileage and worn-out race flats turned into casual shoes, i would think only of how all of this related to my goal, my running, my speed, my legs. i was out of touch.
when she asked me about how i would return to running before this past marathon, i laughed and, noting my recent hit and run shoulder separation, or my recent blown attempt at the usual sub-3 goal, i told her i would wing it. i told her i would run as fast as i could until i had an out of body experience, and then i'd watch myself cross the line with whatever was left in me. stupid ass. i was out of touch, but not out of this broken body, not by a long shot. you see, there are many things that happen to a body during a marathon, and if the mind doesn't suppress all of them hard enough for long enough, they reach up and choke the mind, flood it with pain and doubts and regret-based wishes, and then the mind tumbles into every cell raging with pain or dumb slowness, and it is dragged forward by the plodding body it could not leave. it is a wagon ride in chains.
at kilometre thirty, the arrogance evaporated from my body. no longer fuelled by the vain notion that i had a chance at proving anything, i settled into this old man's body, and began a dreadful shuffle toward a finish twelve kilometres away. i would learn much in this journey, but the most important lesson was, of course, about my fellows.
my fellows are tougher than i.
it takes a lot of strength and tenacity and toughness of the mind and of the body to run a marathon in three hours. somehow, it takes a little bit more to run it in under three, but i'll only be able to write about that when i do it some day. sunday, though, i learned about the toughness it takes to run for so very much longer than three hours, for agonizing tens of minutes longer than three hours, that the pain outweighs every other feeling, including progress or reason to proceed.
the half-marathoners joined the course somewhere in my final haze, and like so many sweating, plodding, coursing fish, they carried me along in their stream, refusing to stop, refusing to give up, determined to finish this damn thing. most of them were heavier than i. all of them were harder. they were still running. they had been running for two hours. they had been plodding through heat and water tables and hoses and supersoakers wielded by well-meaning five year olds with excellent aim. they refused to walk. they refused to stop. they refused to succumb to heat or steam or sunshine or all of those demons in their minds that told them they could not do this. they sweated into their headphones and dripped all over the pavement and stepped forward again and again while their shoulders darkened in the sun. and they smiled. and they grimaced. and they drew strength from cheers and i drew strength from them. their determination pulled me along. their tenacity put my feet forward. their heaving spirits pushed me to the line.
i wanted to walk. i wanted to stop. i wanted to be done already. i had learned the lesson. couldn't we just skip these next few thousand metres and have me on my way? could i just forgo the medal that everyone gets and a stale bagel oozing in the sun and go home and curl up in an ice bath of shame? no. i could not. the lesson is not learned until the process is complete. and the process is not complete until the line is crossed. and the line, however theoretical it may be, is only the beginning. so i got there, after a long stop in the 41k porta-potty.
so i learned. i learned that people who run four hour marathons and two hour half marathons are at least twice as tough as i am. i learned that i really do love running and that there is something in it for those who dedicate to it. i learned that the beauty of the crowd is in the exchange: they cheer, i act; we do it for each other, as best we can, authentically. i learned that time does not matter as long as honesty prevails. i learned that i will always finish. i learned that the heat isn't as bad as they say it is. i learned that my body cannot run two all-out marathons in a month with four runs between them. i learned that all i want to do is run.
so tonight i'll go and see people who are also better runners than i. we will talk about that elusive three hours and how everyone has gone under it except i. we will talk about the marathon on the weekend and boston a few weekends ago and what we're doing for cross country season this year. and i will try to focus on the process, on being free from time, on becoming a runner. cheers. and a toast, to everyone who runs tougher than i: thank you.
Friday, May 27, 2016
she counted down the five seconds out loud, over the snuffling noses and dripping elbows, over the hum of another oncoming bus so incongruous in this inflated neighborhood with its pompous driveway furniture, over the screeches of nighttime birds, and off we went.
tim took the front immediately, as we all knew he would. then the kid showed up to give him a run for his money, and i wondered briefly how long i could hold on. by the end of the first turn, they were up the hill, and i was just settling into a pace i knew i would not be able to maintain. tim, bless his heart, is always convinced that i am faster than i am. this is pretty sweet, but also pretty disheartening as i've never given him good reason to believe so. i'm younger, balder, and have beaten him in end-of-practice-interval sprints, but that's it. he went under three hours in the marathon back when i completely blew up in november, and he hasn't looked back. now a runner after college days of smoking and other debauchery, tim is a good-looking marathoner 100 lbs. lighter than his younger self who consistently runs 100k weeks. he's a role model, in more ways than one, and i'm learning from him.
as tim and the kid cruised over the hill and i tailed them just to see what pace they were running, it occurred to me that tim was leading, and he didn't even look like he was sweating. of course, he had already run to the workout, and would run home to round out a 21k second run of the day, but he was leading. when the kid came by because i was running too slowly and still too fast for his approval before my all-important marathon attempt number 2 for the month, i asked him casually if he was running ottawa this weekend too. you know, i gulped air just so that i could expel it in a full-sentence question complete with verbs and prepositions. he deciphered my mangled exhale, translated it, figured his response, translated it, and told me, 'no.' he ran on. i faded into third.
the first interval done, the rest period flew by, and we were back at it, the kid chasing tim, me chasing the kid, everyone else on my heels. i had no water. i had already lost pounds through sweat. we weren't yet halfway done. i loved it. we had shed our shirts after the first one, and were now dripping fire on searing laps through this closed-in, closed-off neighbourhood of stone. some couples walked. one property had a roofing crew, another, a reno. and everywhere was the faint pat-pat of dogged strides in the humid-quiet evening. the long downhill run-in to the finish inspired kick after kick, ending abruptly at the stop sign amid horks and gasps and frantic lip-licking in place of bottle-sucking. i walked it off as best i could, cursed my lack of a bottle, and watched the watch. the rest hurt more than the interval. i was thirstier at rest.
we ran the next two consistent. we kept the pace. we even picked it up a bit on the last hill. i played tricks on my mind, letting it get to the quitting point, citing dehydration and the heat and the humidity and headaches and the maladjusted derailleur on my brand-new mountain bike and the helmet replacement i would not get, and then i reeled it all in. i tucked in the elbows. i leaned the head forward. i took the hill faster than in any of the previous intervals. i finished with a sigh. tim was waiting for me. and the kid didn't tell me to man up. it was a beautiful run.
she came over that friday night as usual, relatively unannounced and wholly wished-for. she always comes by when i need her the most, and i rarely ever invite her. i am an idiot. but she did come over and we did have burgers and then my girls all left to watch the game and play with friends so she and i sat at the table i made and talked about everything under the sun. there were many epiphanies had, though the overriding one is the one i've been failing to physically latch onto of late: consistency.
if you are consistent, you win.
i come at this notion from several different directions and venues, but the consistency thing rings true everywhere. it's at the root of that blingy 10 000 hour rule to becoming a master. it's what makes every champion, ever. it's the route for every genius that we come to know and admire for his/her talent. it's what i'm afraid of.
i get a running blog sent to me weekly, and it's by this guy who's quirky and wonderful and generally gets all kinds of things right. except for obstacle course racing. i mean, really... either way, he just sent a post about running not actually being difficult. and it's not. put one foot in front of the other several hundred thousand times, and you've run somewhere. there is no real skill in it. the only way to get better at it, is to take more steps, often. this is consistency. and through consistency, there comes mastery.
one of my resolutions at the beginning of the year was to journal more consistently. i was going to write every day in a black book with a black pen on manila pages about bland or potent thoughts. either way, this has not been true. i failed, and it's only may. another resolution was to become a consistent runner. again, in the short view, i failed. i trained real hard. i ran a 3:02 marathon. i ran once. i got hit by a car. i ran three more times. and this weekend i'll run another marathon. consistency is not exactly the theme of this month. however, in working up to the first marathon and right through its cold, windy, rainy bitter end, i became a runner. i was consistent. i consistently put one foot in front of the other. i consistently worked. i was a consistent user of socks and shoes and body glide and gels. so that goal is happening. and, after i recover from this next marathon, i'm going to start running again, consistently, just to see what happens. what happens to the poet who shows up, every time, and writes? what about the bike rider who gets up, every time, and rides? what if i looked at the kitchen, every night, and washed the dishes? mastery, folks, we're talkin mastery here. and i don't know what mastery at dishwashing looks like, but i'm damn sure gonna find out.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
i put my laundry away single-handedly and without any particular pride in the action. looking down, there was more space on top of the taupe and stained wall-to-wall carpet, and more space on top of my stained green messenger-turned-photo bag. this is where the laundry usually goes. then it goes onto my body. then back onto the floor, but in a 'laundry bag'. somewhere in there, the laundry is switched by an overtired, overbeautiful lady, and folded by our curly-haired daughter on the couch we bought after our entire bike fleet was totaled in a collision.
collision is the word these days.
accident was the word when we were growing up. it was accepted and widely used, like 'indian', 'retarded', 'victim', and 'flesh'-colored crayons that were pinkish-white. it's no longer an accident. it is a collision. it is what it is.
and yesterday, it was a collision. and today, and yesterday, no one cares.
i travel through much of my time and space as an invisible person. few people notice me. i cause little trouble in the grand flow of things. my wife doesn't remember meeting me the first time. i used to be offended by my own anonymity, and then i learned its power. now i enjoy it, and allow it to guide my movements. i pride myself on navigating high school hallways and rush hour traffic with the same invisible flow. no one sees me unless they're aiming for me. proceed accordingly.
i didn't think the driver saw me.
i saw him. i saw his car. i saw the distance between us and between his car and the curb and then his car moved and all of the equations shifted values and the physics changed my state from rolling to airborne and then to stopped. a 72kg mass traveling at 20km/h is stopped by a black, potholed, stationary object known as a street. how much force is exerted on the mass? bonus question: what is the acromio-clavicular joint?
anonymity is one thing. being left in the fetal position in the gutter with a bike tangled on top of me while rush hour traffic bears down on me is quite another. jane stopped her car in the turn lane. barry parked in the driveway was exiting. they pulled me out of the street. they treated my bike nicely. they lifted my heavy backpack. they asked me if i was okay. jane tried to follow the car down the street to which it fled. they both made statements to the cop who showed up an hour later. both were appalled it took this long for a cop to come to the scene of a hit and run involving a cyclist. i told them, 'this is toronto; no one cares about cyclists.'
it was the usual hassle. the only thing worse than it all was the fact that i forgot my phone at home that morning. of course. so i couldn't take pictures of my bent-in shifters/brake levers. i couldn't call 911 straight away. i couldn't get people's numbers efficiently. i couldn't call my lady.
the main point is this: i am anonymous, and that is good, but i am angry that someone would leave me for anonymous dead, because i am no good if dead. i spend my days trying to be good to and for other people. i'm not riding my bike to work because it's fun and i look cool in my high-vis yellow jacket. i'm not working my steady uncertain job because it makes me mad bank and gets me into the VIP lounge. i'm not picking my girls up from school or making their lunches because it helps to pass all the time in my anonymous day. i'm just trying to be good, to others. and then this shit happens. and no one fuckin cares. and then all those other things don't get done, like the job or the lunches for the most important people in the world, my little girls, and that is not okay. my shoulder doesn't work. i can't ride or run. no one has time for any of this. and all because that driver didn't have time to stop.
i'll keep putting away the laundry single-handedly.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
I was told, after a brief post about my 35k run on Strava, to 'man up.'
It took me aback at the moment, and has continued to bother me on several levels.
This is an open letter to English Language Learners on 'Manning-Up' and all the other shit that one might have to learn before calling someone out on such a prospect.
The run was a 35k training run designed to build endurance and durability for my upcoming attempt at a marathon run in under three hours. This is a massive feat that has eluded me ever since I started running marathons, and would be a massive benchmark for an untalented amateur such as myself.
The pace was designated as 'easy' by my coach. That meant running each kilometer in a time of 4:30 to 5:00. No faster. No slower. Easy, in this sense, was referring to the pace. And, as anyone who runs any distance would know, as distance increases, so will perceived effort, and 'easy' will, inevitably, become 'not easy'. Such was my long run last night. It started into a sunset and cold northerly wind. It ended in utter darkness and a cold northerly wind. The pace averaged out to within seconds of the slow end of 'easy'. The effort, by the end, was far beyond 'easy'. And the triumph of the day was finishing the mileage to lie in the fetal position on the warm floor of my kitchen before eating a nutritious and delicious meal fixed by my supportive, intelligent, beautiful partner, while our wonderful children slept soundly upstairs.
In our society, this is all a 'man' could possibly quest after or ask for. Partner. Offspring. Physical accomplishment in the face of hardship. Satisfactory completion of a day.
I mentioned a bit about the run on my Strava post. I mentioned that it was a long run and that easy became not easy. I mentioned the wind and the heart. And that was about it. It was brief to the point of being poetic. It was certainly beyond literal.
Then a kid of nineteen commented on it, stating that 35k is never easy. Fair enough. I agree. It's the longest training run I've ever done, and ended up being about the same amount of time I hope to run 42.2k in a couple of weeks. Then he said it: 'Man up.' I was incensed. What in the hell does a nineteen-year-old kid who easily runs a 2:49 marathon know about manning up?
Man up is a great saying. It is comprised of two societal interpretations that result in a hybrid euphemism in the English language that demand the recipient of the request gather himself into the best expectations of masculinity and use them to rise to an occasion. This is good. As it rests, the 'man' portion of 'man up' assumes that the societal norms imposed upon the man gender are ones of perseverance, resourcefulness, tenacity, audacity, and a willingness to pursue for good. The 'up' portion of the phrase refers to other idioms, such as 'rise to the occasion' and 'step up (to the plate/line/etc.)'. These are key in the 'man up' phrase, as they further outline the necessity of putting oneself beyond one's current status, particularly in the face of adversity, and moving into an equal state with the confrontation or issue presented (regardless of previously assumed inadequacies of physical, social, economic, etc. nature). Thus, to 'man up' would be to act like a man and rise to the occasion; to be all one can be and present it in the face of a challenge. Such would be a beautiful thing. Such is not the thing to be demanded by a talented runner of nineteen years of age with no context whatsoever regarding the run or runner in question.
'Man up' is not something he can say.
If the runner in question spent the entire day cheering and hoping and emoting for his children at a track meet, after he had cooked for them, before he had cooked for them again, and made sure they bathed, and sent them to bed after they read books he bought for them, perhaps he had already manned up. If the runner in question had made a good life for himself and others, and found an amazing partner with whom to share in it, perhaps he had already manned up. If the runner in question had already mastered enough of the English language to write it in published prose or teach it to the next generations for the last decade, perhaps he had already manned up. If the runner in question had no talent whatsoever for sport, yet continued to will his inadequate body through kilometer after kilometer of hopeful training, despite an old body and phantom injuries that resurfaced at the worst of times, perhaps he had already manned up. And if, throughout all of this, the runner in question understood that there are things that young, brash, language-learning kids have yet to learn about respect and context and the way the world can work in some circles, perhaps he had already known about manning up.
And unless you have done all of this and understood it deeply, unless you know what the fuck you're talking about, do not dare to ever tell someone else to 'man up'.
Monday, February 1, 2016
the clouds warped sunrise light into faint elephants of pink and mauve, while the big kid talked on and on beside me, and my cleats punched sidewalk salt to dust in the dark. it was the first time i had walked her to school in nearly a year. it was the third time i rode a bike to school this new year. it was a perfect start to a day.
i spent so many days cruising up and down the roadways of this city that i forgot the rhythms of a two-wheeled commute. i forgot about breathing and timing starts with lights and lights with buses and buses with efforts and efforts with breathing. today was ridden on a geared bike with two brakes and one fender and clipless pedals and a saddle that has a hard spot on the left side. there was more flow in the never-ending effort of riding a fixed gear. no gears and one brake and two fenders and a pedal stroke for every movement in every direction. i was faster than the fixie today. slower than the car. happier than a commuter.
although i may not come to it for some time, i fantasize about being a force to reckon with. those rocks that get buried by the spring run-off, and then poke their heads through the current just enough to make an eddy, they don't know that there's a river coursing by. or maybe they do, but they're so damn heavy, they just sit there and only move for really big deals, like earthquakes and glaciers, or really soft touches, like a thousand-year-old streams. it would be nice to be so unbothered, so sure of mass, so full of gravity, as to sit, content, in the flow, looked for, looked to for support and relief, becoming only more beautiful with the wearing-down of time. i rode today all baffled by wind and air walls pushed along by the blunt-nosed buses full of staring commuters. i held my line. i wondered aloud at the lack of anywhere safe to cross the 401. i gave one person the finger and was yelled at by another. it was not a day of flow. there need not be any explanations to any of these things. i have not explained the line i chose through the most cracked-up intersection in the city. there is no reasoning behind a car full of kids just trying to get to dance practice. there is no rationale for that buttery-smooth pavement interrupted by a single steel grate. i don't know why i noticed a thousand things and remembered the ones that ruin them all. tomorrow will be another ride. tomorrow we try again.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
a while ago, I was toying with the idea of doing a post on why I'm so awesome. i was on a bit of a rampage, going hard through my workouts, making good relationships with people at work, getting shit done. i even knew how to make a figure-four deadfall trap.
and then it all fell apart.
the trap turned out to be very sensitive and would have been effective if it weren't for the lack of pull in the decade-old bungee cord that was supposed to provide tension. the running workouts were awesome and hard and propelling me toward absolute victory in my sub-three-hour-marathon goal, and then my mind got so tired and preoccupied it was all i could do to make it through the wind one foot in front of another in the golden sunshine of no man's land. and i got complaints and consultations at work, something about questioning evaluations and consistency and something else. bullshit.
there is no need to talk about all the broken feet and ankles in the house this autumn. there is no need to address the things that got lost in yardwork long past due, or the things that got lost between 'me' and 'you'. there is no need to write about the fact that i can't write so much anymore, that everything that used to be is no more, that easy wasn't even yesterday, that tomorrow no longer shines with possibility. we may not give up on hope or progress or the nitty gritty in between, but, i tell you, there is much more to be desired. i still wake up exhausted but it's not always because i ran so far the day before. my legs hurt but not in a good way. my lungs are slowly filling with the thick dredge of winter. and you'll notice there's no poetry here.
so on we go, hapless and hazardous, teetering on edges more than brinks, just stumbling toward somewhere that's got to be better than here and now, because here and now kinda sucks. on and on and on.
Thursday, July 9, 2015
i knew that the distance was too long and the leg was too sore and it was too cold and there was too little daylight left, but knowing and believing are very different things.
winter hit toronto hard, so the running was hard, so the will had to be harder. more commutes to work were done on foot than on two wheels. more workouts were done in the snow than on salty pavement. we drove a lot of sundays, making sure the kids enjoyed winter rather than groaning about it like their old man too in love with the wrong sport.
every sunday, after skiing, i got dressed in all of my layers, and went out for the long run. my weeks included at least four runs, one of them long, and one of them thrashing myself at the club circuit of intervals. a bunch of men and women flying around snow-covered neighborhoods every tuesday night. steaming in the frozen car on the drive home. dark tuesdays at the burger joint if it was a pay week. soggy shivers home if it wasn't. sundays were just long and the soggy shivers happened at the end, coming into the hill, nowhere near any triumphs.
i got used to chasing the sun. i got blisters from my yaktrax the tuesday before, so that sunday i resolved to duct tape the toe boxes of my road trainers, and i set out for laps of a local snowy road. i made four sets of tracks in the middle of the road, an out and back not being long enough for the full distance. footsteps slurred through the corners, found solid ground the further they got from the highway. the best times were when it was just snowing and silent.
my knee hurt that afternoon.
the next week was a longer run, a longer way from sunset to home, so i ran west to make the most of it. i jumped snowbanks and dodged construction fences. i ran around pillars and people and potholes. i ran to the west end, then the watch beeped a muffled bleat beneath layers, and i turned around. by the time i was almost home, there was fresh snow and no one had shoveled and i was out of gels and still three kilometers short of the distance, so i ran up a street, over a street, up a street, over a street, and so on, snaking my way to the full 21 kilometers. five steps from the porch, i was done.
i sat on the kitchen floor, thawing and steaming, and generally resolving myself into a dew, when i realized: my knee hurt.
i started some physio and saw some experts and did all kinds of exercises that week. nothing helped. the knee seemed like it would be okay, and then it flared up to stabbing pain, and i knew something was going terribly wrong. but knowing and believing are very different things.
i knew i had a terrible case of IT band syndrome. i knew i had already paid for boston. i knew i had already booked my room and was ready for an airline seat sale. i just had to get there. and that was going to be the hardest part.
trust the training. we do this because it takes the pressure off of ourselves, and allows us to rely on something we've already done, something we've already achieved, something stockpiled in the cool room, right next to confidence and a small stash of dynamite, just in case.
i got to boston common by pure chance after a short ride on the boston bus system. i got on the humid school bus excited and a little stonefaced. i ran from the bus to pee as soon as we got into hopkinton. i huddled under a tent with other pre-race survivors while the wind and mist blew through the waiting area. i vaselined everything i could. i donated my warm clothes too soon. i took off my hat for the anthem. i cheered for meb. i smiled for twelve miles straight.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
what i said to the youth the other day. and i meant every word.
i yelled at my kids last night. two little girls, the most wonderful treasures in my world, were driving me nuts and not getting to bed fast enough at the end of such a day that would only end when their eyes closed to dream. i was too tired to get into hurtful words. i was too tired to be patient. so i sat, and i yelled.
when my knee was hurting for so many weeks and none of the therapists in the city could fix it, i finally got in touch with the best healer i know, and she told me one true thing: find where it hurts, and turn into the pain. you see, the tension arises because something is pulling on something else, maybe twenty other somethings, and somewhere along the way the pulling is too much so it hurts. turn toward the hurt. relieve the tension. the hurt will go away.
standing in front of you every day and trying to be worth your while is a nearly impossible task. i struggle, usually in silence, while trying to help you along to a better version of yourself. i hope all of you moving together will somehow rub off on me a bit and that maybe i'll be a bit better by the end of it too. the most important part of this whole deal is that i hope. my brother once told me that he did not hope, not at all, because he thought 'hope' was the same as 'wish' and wish was the opposite of work and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to get the things he wanted without earning them through work. it hurt me to hear him eradicate hope. so i worked to clarify the difference between the two words. hope is what makes us live and alive. wish is a frivolous want that falls far short of having a reason to breathe.
you and all that you will be, are part of my reason to breathe.
a girl asked me yesterday if i had heard about madeline. i had not. i still know next to nothing about her save the heart-wrenching vagueness of her obituary, or my own opinion that no one should have to have an obituary when they're only fifteen.
each day the routine remains much the same. we meet deadlines and adhere to schedules and make appointments just in time. we yell at our friends and our parents and our families and anyone else we love. we read and write and do math that makes no sense. we practice and then practice more. and all of this is a wondrous miracle. that we can have minds inside bodies with beating hearts that can love others'; that we can be aware of time and waste it or make it; that our time can be cut short, whether on our clocks or those of the ones we love; this is all a miracle, and none of it makes any goddam sense. because balance never has.
i may not propose a solution here, friends. i know no answers, hold no clues. i'm lucky to be here, i'm lucky to look at you and know just a scratch of you, and i have no idea how this miracle works. but if there's something out of balance, if you're wondering what's next and if there is anything next and whether anyone gives a shit about you, know that i do, and a ton of other better-informed, better-resourced, and better-looking people give a shit about you too. we're not trying to reach perfection here, friends. we're just trying to stay up. turn into the hurt. release it.
Friday, April 3, 2015
'we're going to the bridge in town to jump off it. can you meet us there?'
'i don't know.'
'let me ask my mom. hang on.'
i can picture that bridge, in that light, with zack and me sitting cross-legged smack dab in the middle of the warm and crumbling concrete, stretched slack over the lazy river twelve feet below. it was nine-thirty.
these days mean that every day starts before the sun and ends well after bedtime, no longer tangled in sheets, but in debts and expectations and dreams of everything going right. despite it all, i'm convinced it will work out. my leg will return as will my pace and the ability to hurt without injury. the credit card bill will return to zero after warm months' promises are paid for and enjoyed. i've mortgaged my present for excellence later and cupcakes in the meanwhile. it must be worth it.
on the wall between the dining room and the mudroom, next to photographs by my father and paintings by myself and drawings by the girls done in crayon and markers that used to smell, there is a framed poem. it talks all about the stuff that could have been done to make a house presentable. it talks about cleaning and polishing and keeping things tidy. it talks about foregoing all of that crap so that children could be raised well. that's about where we're at. take care of what's important; forego the trips to mexico and the down payments on overpriced real estate. give people what you've got. promise what you mean.
Monday, February 23, 2015
nicky said she had beautiful feet.
i had no idea what beautiful feet were, so he went on describing things to me so well that now i cannot go round without appreciating the aesthetic quality of anyone's feet. i liked my own hands well enough, with their longer fingers from my white grandfather coming out of their wider palms from my brown grandfather. that are not beautiful hands, but they get the job done and do not resemble sausages before or after cooking. asians have beautiful hands. this is a generalization of course, but true more often than not.
grant had rough hands. i suppose he was a real man from a time when real men worked with their hands, knew what do do with every tool in their garages, and would be lost in the moisturizer section of the nearest grocery store. turns out grant never used moisturizer. and she remembers her baths as a small child and the rough scrub from his hands on her perfect skin. he was a great father.
i came home one day from school to the house my dad had built with few tools and less money, and he was moisturizing his hands. they had cracked at every single crease. it was a wet and cold autumn that year when he secured a position as a labourer on the same crew he had employed to close in the house of his dreams before winter came. he bought a yellow raincoat with navy blue corduroy around the collar. he bought steel toe work boots with a green CSA triangle patch on the side. he worked in the rain, sloughing liquid concrete and bags of sand or mortar, until the boss called him in. his hands cracked. he went to bed early. and we were always warm.
my mother never paints her fingernails. deep reds and garish greens and the odd pink or powder blue have started decorating her toes, but only now, in her grandmother years, in her big house, mostly finished and nearly empty of all of us. painted nails would never do as she cares for the sick and medically needy. painted nails would chip on firewood at the furnace or the copper-bottom pots in the steel sink under the window. there is little time for painting nails when you've an entire world to put before your own whims.
time to get to work.
Friday, January 16, 2015
i am never ready to write.
i lay in bed last night, with stiff, heavy legs, thinking about all kinds of things and, eventually, resting on just a few eloquent lines for a spoken word poem about… it's left me. i came up with everything, rhymed and metered for a few perfect beats, then fell deeply asleep. i figured i could wake up in the morning and type them out and be a better person for getting something right before six a.m. this was not so.
the kids at work have been barreling through three-to-five-minute bursts of speeches through a range of topics. every time one of those shining faces opens a mouth to speak, a new idea rattles around inside my head, and i have to wrench my focus back to the evaluation at hand. nothing kills creativity like a goddam rubric. and so i want to speak. i would like to get up there, all important-like behind that lectern, and go off on some eloquent tangent like i know, and believe, what i'm saying. but i've spent days being quiet. and it's been great.
tracksmith sent me a free calendar. large and obtrusive, it dominates the wall of degrees in the office, holding its ground just above the light switch and an older work of so many crayons by the fat fingers of the big kid when she was little. the thick paper bears the grey, sans serif numbers of each day of every month for this year. underneath, in gilt bold block letters are three simple words: NO DAYS OFF. tracksmith also sent me a red sharpie. though i was hoping for a big fat marker that maybe smelled like synthetic cherries from the 80s, i use the sharpie to mark an 'X' over every day i run.
there are many Xs.
consistency being the key to mastery of so many things, i resolved to run more long before this calendar thing ever got tweeted or mailed in a real envelope to a real address. there are days off, but that only makes sense as rest days are as important as stress days. and it's fucking winter. but the main point is this: more often, i must do the right things. consistently, i must right and run and ride and grin and read more. there must be more Xs.
there will be no days off.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
When I was a kid, all sixes and sevens and just barely adding up to thirteen, my dad gave me a valuable lesson. He said, 'Look at the people in your life who are good, the people you look up to, and figure out what makes them good. Then, work on being that way yourself.' I must have looked somewhat stunned at the moment, so he offered an example.
"Who do you look up to in your life? Who is a good person that you want to be like?"
My dad went on to espouse me of all the virtues of my grandfather, as if I did not already know them by heart. Bob is a people person. At any time, on any day, he could talk to anyone, and both parties would leave the conversation richer than at the start.
"What about hyacinths?"
"Yeah. The flowers."
"I don't know. He grows them in his basement. On the ping-pong table."
"That's right. All winter, they're there, doing nothing. Then, when it's springtime, they blossom. And they're beautiful to look at, and they smell wonderful, and you know what he does with them?"
"He gives them away."
My dad explained how Bob, without pretense or sinister intent or anything other than other-centeredness, would drive around in his massive grandpa car, and deliver the hyacinths to local friends. He would walk into a house full of boys and leftover plates of food and half pairs of socks mostly dirty from the fray, and he would stay for a chat, and he would always have a story, and then he would leave, the sparkling hyacinth still on the kitchen table.
And that's when the miracle would take shape.
You see, Bob was well up the road, likely negotiating some potholed turn or oncoming log truck, maybe enjoying the way snowbanks steam in spring sunlight while pine needles sink into their glistening crusty surfaces, when the hyacinth started to work. Of a sudden, the neighbor would be struck by its beauty. The fresh scent and the innocent pale petals would remind her of babies so many years ago. The soil would be perfectly damp and yet firm, and clean. Clean. She would start to clean.
It might be hours or days later, but the entire house, from cinder-blocked addition foundation to rough-hewn cathedral ceiling beam, would be clean. Every dish was polished and stacked neatly behind now-laundered cupboard curtains (the doors would be made next spring). Every sock had a mate and every tile, clean grout. The cracks between floorboards bore no witness to dusty new tenants, and served only to accentuate the character of carefully-laid planks. There was now a cloth on the table.
On top of the cloth, there were hyacinths.
"Find the good people; figure out what makes them good; be good like that."
Sunday, November 16, 2014
i wanted to wrap my tongue around words that didn't rhyme with my guilt.
i wanted to wrap my arms around a woman who didn't shy away, covered in other thoughts of other times that maybe were better but certainly won't happen again.
i wanted to wrap words around my tongue like her kisses used to fit, all tender and longing and satisfied, eventually.
i wanted to wrap my shoulders with something not quite as heavy as the weight of the world, but just as warm and burning.
these months are the cold.
'i should burn these'
'why not just recycle them?'
'or do you want the ceremony of actually burning them?'
i reached forward and took the very large pieces of wrinkled and creased newsprint, and slowly stuffed them together. the bodies, the torsos, rendered meticulously in hand-smeared charcoal to a recognizable likeness of our younger selves, pressed together in the haphazard way i still long for, and then filled the garish blue recycling bag. my hands got covered in charcoal. again, this was comforting. i smiled a grim smile then, holding my breath like i do when i empty the compost or scrub the toilet or wait for a reprimand, and held the bag full of drawings close to my chest.
'i shoulda burned them.'
Friday, October 17, 2014
we are supposed to grow up good.
and in this world of all being fair or all being well, there's not enough love and there's too much war and not much really ends well. i miss grant. and as much as i didn't know jeni very well, and as much as i cried real hard at jake's funeral, and as much as i wanted to go to jim's but couldn't get my passport in time, i've not been as angry about death as i am now.
i'm fucking pissed.
when we grow up, we are supposed to look up to people, supposed to be fed myths and legends and things that will make us be good people when we're too old for band-aids and too tired to fall in love. when we grow up, we are supposed to be good, supposed to be exemplary, supposed to still believe in concrete and important things that are enormous and amazing and too profound to fit in an italicized hallmark card in the stuffy aisle at the drug store. when we grow up, we should know better than to think things are fair, than to believe in santa claus or tooth fairies, than to go on inspiration alone. and at the same time, we should turn right around and nurture this behavior in the youth; propagate myths and outrageous hope; believe that good will prevail.
well, it fucking won't.
because there will be cancer. and there will be bodies that can't overcome cancer. and there will be patients who'll 'lose' their 'battle with cancer'. and there will be doctors who can't fix people and nurses who can't walk up the fucking stairs to administer drugs that won't cure the people we love anyway.
conrad marched slowly toward me in the line and looked like a mountain undergoing immediate and devastating erosion. he was a landslide. as he towered over me and crumbled visibly, he dwarfed my hands firmly in his and strengthened his voice and uttered a few words about 'a good man'. then he said it was too bad 'we couldn't save him'. conrad is a fucking financial adviser and i'm a useless son-in-law and neither of us knows shit about oncology other than knowing that word means you know sadness and loss and how fucking stupidly unfair all this sham is. then he blinked into the distance and took small steps away before fading into the hallway all covered in taupe and tears. funeral homes are not fair.
and tonight my daughter is sad because she no longer has a grandpapa. she only ever had one, and she was the one who made him a grandpapa, and now that amazing wonderful man is gone. and he wasn't even done yet. some people get taken when they're done and ready. some people get taken before they've even gotten going. and her grandpapa got taken in the middle of it all, in the prime of his rich, rich life, practically right out of her chubby little arms.
my lady is too stubborn to let go in front of any of us. she insists on being strong and tough and independent. she insists on taking care of all of us. she insists that that's what her dad would have wanted. and she's probably right. but i'm pretty fucking sure he would have wanted me to take care of her too. and frankly, i don't know how.
i have spent many of my ottawa hours in the good man's garage, fetching tools for him when he was well, then looking for hidden items when he wasn't, and now trying to make sense of things i've never understood. like the MG-B. or the collections of tools and lubes and paints but nothing to clean them up when they spill, or cover our ears from the noise. i guess that's kinda how things are going right now; we were so caught up in getting it all done, we weren't ready to clean up yet.
my lady mentioned today in her eulogy that she needed her dad's cancer diagnosis to slow her down, help her focus on the time that we actually had left, focus on making memories while we could. i drove thousands of kilometers every month, up to ottawa and back, making sure we had memories. and the old man, bless his heart, always had a ready smile, no matter the pain, and a firm handshake, no matter the lost weight, and a fire in his hopeful eyes, no matter the sunken cheeks. we slowed down. he sped up. in the friction between both lifestyles we made sparks of memories to keep. tonight i'm grasping at them before they fade into the sky. it is not fair.
so i held little z tonight.
at just seven months, he has been a perfect little gentleman the whole of his little life, and he seems to embody all of the calm and patience the old man put forth into this world. i held him just now, for a few hours, watching him sleep and breathe and dream and flail in his slumber, then settle and breathe again. he is calm and strong. his smile is ready.
my lady just got back from cleaning out the old man's office. stuck to a sticky corkboard on faded yellow paper was a simple objective typed, on a typewriter, in courier font size 12: to provide for my family and somehow do something to make this world a better place. in all that is completely unfair and undone and left unfinished and unwell, at least he accomplished his objective. a million fucking times over.
salut, monsieur. dormez bien.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
the first five notes of the koln concert are the least important of the first twenty-six minutes and they are followed by a ringing silence that can open a soul.
i have listened to the koln concert throughout most of my overemotional existence, ever since i was almost a teenager, ever since i had a favorite uncle, ever since i could stay up too late and wish that i was having a deep conversation with my dad while the rest of the kids were supposedly asleep. my daughter was born to its notes six and a half years ago. and now, while the kids are supposedly asleep, i listen for the silence.
i had learned that music was organized sound and silence in time, and i had learned this from the greatest music teacher in the nation, way out in the country, spending his gift on the rough and tumble youth at the tail end of a golden era. the silence is as important as the sound. without it, we've just got noise.
these are noisy days.
the weeks between this and the last post are plenty and strong. dates and times and faces and rhymes have taken to the current and blurred right on by. jada had a baby. so did the nanny. the postman ran a slow half. i made the hole shot in a masters race. my father in law breathes his last days. my mother in law tries to remember. i haven't kissed in years.
if you want to remember what it was like the first time, try forgetting the last time. if it's something that gnaws at your consciousness, if you just want to figure it out so you can let it go, if you can't help but keep it on the tip of your raw, stinging tongue, spit or swallow and then move. it's in the silence. that has to be found first.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
my dad used to write us letters.
most of them were penned by hand, his distinctive all-caps block type interrupted here and there with 'm's that looked like the chinook coming down the foothills into the plains. most of them were stories.
although we could all read plenty fine, i distinctly remember being read these letters aloud. mostly my sister did it, sometimes my mother, and the entire experience lingers in the delicious category of my memory. somehow we weren't running around or doing chores or chasing bedtimes and baths. somehow the babysitter was done for the day. somehow we were all sitting still and quiet enough to hear the words. and they filled our imaginations, those words, they swelled our hearts and made us miss the man even more, though we were satisfied with being taken along on even a handful of his adventures. he wrote about water and canoes and rivers and heroes and giants and land and trees. before we left our home, he had built a dream for us to go to. those months–of leaving and packing and moving and driving and goodbye and let's go–could have been the most tumultuous of our lives; all i remember are the letters.
i heard once that george lucas, back when his storytelling was better, consulted joseph campbell prior to the writing of the original star wars trilogy. apparently, lucas knew that it was important to construct myth, and he wanted to get it right.
the letters from my father were constructed myth. though much of the stories was based in 'fact', the most important stuff, the stuff that sticks in my head and can be recited by all of my siblings word for word, that stuff was myth. it started off true and then went somewhere better, became bigger, made more sense and elevated our imaginations to greater possibilities. for kids growing up in the 80s with nikes on their feet and mcdonald's in their bellies, it was important, it was imperative, to construct myth, if for no other reason than to elevate.
throughout much of my life, i have had the luxury of long talks with my dad. early on, it was about anything and everything and most of it was just learning, and it wasn't hard, and it was my favorite time in the car or on the bike or before dinner was done. we would daydream together about going to italy some day, picking up a pair of brand new colnagos or pinarellos at the factory, and then riding and eating our way through the entire country. we would dream about having horses with hooves as big as my head, and a barn to keep them in, and the cool farm chores i could do. making any of those beautiful dreams come true was beside the point. the point was that we could and should dream, and we could do it together, each with his own honest smile, giddy in his heart.
it is important to construct myth.
it is important to have ideals, and embed those in good stories, and tell the stories to children and young people and old people you love. we must remember risk and adventure and challenge and triumph. we must recall comradery and the power of two hands holding together over rushing water. we must remember giants.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
'i like when you wash my hair.'
'you have a mane like a horse.'
'i like horses.'
'they're fast and strong and beautiful. like you.'
it's been years since i've bathed this child. she is in the last glowing months of absolute innocence, unformed by adolescence, game for anything except being a grown up. but now she has height that reaches her mamas, long quick legs, a sense of humor that grasps Irony, and a shattered right elbow. i haven't bathed this girl since she could do it herself, singing and playing in so much water, supervised and unhurried, a cherub with a cloth and bubbles. now she cradles a cast that weighs more than her head, now she steps gingerly, everywhere, now her neck gets pulled by the sling for her cast, now her freckles are fleeting reminders of her carefree days.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
before i became much of a man, my grandfather was gone.
i used to write poetry. it was pretty terrible. and i would send it to my grandmother because she was a master of literature and teaching and she would read it to my grandfather, sitting by his side, at a very long table that used to feed so many hungry mouths, and he would get exasperated and exclaim, "there's just too much sex in it!"
i hadn't had any sex when i wrote any of that stuff.
later on, before i even graduated from high school, my grandfather was gone. he left before i became something more elegant and possessed of agency than a hormone-ridden accident of circumstance and micromanaging. he left before i could run. he left before i met the lady of my life. he left before that lady and i made and raised some sweet sweet children that he would have utterly enjoyed. cancer doesn't care about sweet cheeks.
this grandfather is one i think of often. he had many children. he had much bitterness. he had a hard time figuring out where he fit in a family he loved more than himself. he collected knives and grandchildren and sharpened both with care. he loved hunting. he loved the stories about it more. from this grandfather, i have my champagne taste, a quick temper, and an old seiko watch from the 80s. it may well be as old as i am, and it ticks by the kitchen sink, and blinks rapidly to let me know that its battery is nearly exhausted, and i left it there to do the dishes.
i have a grandfather that knows me now, and i wonder if there is much to be proud of. he knows my children, and welcomes them into his home and laughs at their hilariousness, and hugs them though he can no longer lift them. it seems now that he is the delicate one, that they are careful with him.
the lack of hair on my head, the blue in my eyes, the moles i get removed every few years from my freckled white skin, and my long fingers are from this grandfather. despite my champagne taste, i have joad family resolve, and my jalopy of dignity, however rickety, will make the trip. i got this from him.
there is no resolution here, no respite. onward and upward is the only way to go. struggle makes the most sense. there is no time to falter. the cheeks are still sweet.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Rain slapped the pavement. Wind blew inland from the lake, whipping flags through soggy seizures, the spray into my eyes. There was no relief in going down. Puddles found fissures in the road to pool and arrest rivulets in no difference between my skin and shiny tarmac. We churned.
Reaching the parking lot at the first gate, stuttering to a slow stop over the chopped pavement and grieving patches of slick tar, turning left to go up again, hunched forward, leaning into the gear.
The machine leapt forward. Shiny black metal polished with embrocation and thigh stubble, it was a cat closing on prey. No need to get out of the saddle. No need to push harder than smoothly, to shift to a larger cog, to hunch or gasp. No need to do anything beyond a subtle wrapping of light grip around the tops of the bar, and a coaxing (more in myself than of the machine) toward the grade.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
my favorite color is red.
the semi-sour smell of black leather seats preempted our stifled exit from the volvo that afternoon. i must have gotten out of the back seat on the righthand side, edging my faded nikes between the crackling silver panels of the car, and the chafed latticework of the fence.
a silent sunlight roared through the slats.
and everything was sticky, and gold.
i was the last one through the gate, carrying something plastic and annoying against my skin. i started toward the back door, always eager to rush past the concrete pad i had watched my father pour to serve as a storage area for now-greying trash cans wilting in the sun. and maybe someone said, 'shhhh!', or maybe i stopped hearing, but in a moment, everything went quiet, and i looked up.
between my dad peering over the chipped sill of the back porch window and the shadow in which i stood, there, shiny and proud in all its bmx, kickstand, butterfly tread glory, was my first bike.
and it was red.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
some time around this time, 16 years ago, my grandfather died in his sleep.
he had had a long bout with diabetes, and cancer, and cancer again, and then a heart attack. my dad was there. they had moved my grandfather's bed to the living room on the ground floor, had waited on him and laughed with him and tried to resuscitate him when he stopped breathing, but he had stopped breathing, and they remembered that he wanted it that way, when it was time.
i remember coming back to school after time down south for the funeral. it was cold and it was march and i was generally in a daze. i hugged my buddy zack in the hall, no words spoken, because his grandfather had died a few months earlier. and probably none of us got it. but then i got it. and then i pulled away, he looked at me funny, and i realized not everyone has the grandfather that i just lost.
on a very cold night a couple months earlier, i was on an accidental date with a beautiful girl with brown eyes and a quick smile. we had gone to look at stars. i had brought a sleeping bag. there were no plans to do any kissing. it was in my dumber days when i thought i could get away without euphemism, get out and look at stars on a freezing cold night on a lookout near a highway in a blue ford sedan. apparently not. i got home that night and was in enormous trouble for having completely forgotten to pick up my brother and my dad's sound equipment from my brother's elementary school dance. i went to bed in massive trouble with my dad, a disappointment to my brother, and completely confused by this beautiful girl who had just spent the last couple of hours kissing her way into my heart.
in the middle of the night, my dad got a call from his dad. it was time for my grandfather to die. my dad had to leave now.
my dad had to leave in the car i had just borrowed to go on a date with a girl who didn't know or love me while i forgot to take care of my little brother and, instead, drove the girl home to leave the gas tank at less than a quarter. in the middle of the night, when your father calls to tell you that he has decided to die and he wants you to be with him while he confronts this, there are no gas stations open between your oldest son's stupidity and the part of the country where things are open past 6pm.
somehow, my dad made it to a gas station.
this is all very important because somewhere in there there is a story about the way things seem to go, and how i will always manage to fuck it all up because i am smitten with some girl who doesn't even know me and won't love me back. there will always be a story about how everything means so much more to me than to anyone else and on this interface with the world, there is no telling how many other stories i've missed or gotten wrong. there are details, devils and otherwise, and i'm missing them because i think no one 'gets' what it's like to be me, with my heart, in the face of all of them. how gross.
i was walking toward a ridable street the other day after having spent some time in line at the flower shop with every other man hoping to flower up his own bitter truth on one cold day in february. i go to this flower shop regularly. i never spend this much money in one shot, on one bouquet. i didn't think twice. i found the red roses, strategically priced at a premium above all other roses, and any flower in the shop the day before, and i got in line, and i complimented other men on their choice of arrangement. i paid for my bouquet, left, unlocked my bike, and started home.
on the sidewalk, a lady with golden hair glanced at my bouquet and, with an under-the-breath scoff and condescending smile, marched on while starting a new statement of complaint, 'this cracks me up…' i could just imagine the rest of her sermon. something about men and convention and one day a year that they should, commercially- and societally- and maybe even sexually-driven, 'be nice' to their (normalized, hetero-) lady, buy her flowers, and measure up to some kind of proper. (i had just left the store where a rough-looking local had tried to glean the 'meaning' of blue roses from the mandarin-speaking proprietor of the shop. she had politely asked him to ask someone else. he was demanding. they're flowers, fucknut, assign the meaning yourself and pay the cash and get on with it.) or maybe all these guys carrying bouquets cracked her up because no one even likes roses. or maybe because it brought us all together, this brother/partnerhood of folks, from all walks/locomotions of life, in our quest to be a good person to our significant person. my grandmother starts calling out people's birthdays as 'significant birthday' when they get to be too old to be happy ___th. maybe i'm too old to buy flowers on vday.
and then i got home and put the bouquet in water and got the girls and some groceries and set to work making an awesome tasty dinner. i wasn't expecting romance. i wasn't expecting sex or love or whatever else is supposed to happen on vday with a dozen long stem roses on the table. i was just expecting to not be in trouble for not meeting some unwritten and unspoken expectations. i was expecting to feed happy children and send them to bed with dreams of being winter olympians. i was expecting to be able to relax. and i guess i did.
when zack pulled out of my hug and when that blonde lady scoffed at my bouquet i figured it was all just the same old story of me: no one gets it. and that's fine and that's good and there's a lot of safety in that, but somewhere, some time, this solo effort will end. will there ever be enough gas or flowers to get us through?
Friday, February 7, 2014
the very sunlight that washes over everything in that impossibly-golden hue, the glow that spills in and sets alight anything that might possibly even be thinking about reflecting, the stuff that pours through window panes and hair against the wind, even this just feels like guilt when someone has cancer.
i stood in someone's shower, memorizing the droplets before they left my skin, each hitting the mat to trickle into the deep unknown, and i thought about what i had just done. it wasn't anything major; an easy pace, a long run, some time spent with the woman who fell in love with me a few lifetimes ago, and every step was away from, and then back to, someone with cancer.
the other night at running practice, the mailman and i churned around rykert crescent, trying to keep our double loops under four minutes, egging each other on and driving the pace to spit and cough through our ninety-second recovery. on the fourth double loop set of six, i started up the straight and thought about someone with cancer. i thought about how he might not ever be able to run. i thought about his granddaughters who love to run. i ran faster. i used to think i could run myself away from any kind of heredity. i thought i could run myself away from the diabetes that killed my grandfather. i thought i could run myself away from the heart disease that has taken all but one bitter sibling of my stoic grandmother. i thought i could run myself out of a hangover that is nothing compared to the alcoholic stain in both blood lines. if only i could run the cancer out of everyone.
an important notion in endurance sports is the arrogance of capability. this is important because we're capable of doing what most others are not. we identify ourselves by determining what we are not. and yet, confronted with the most basic human truth, that we are mortal, there is no capability to overcome or run beyond or just push through. cancer wins, and far too often.
an important notion in endurance sports is the arrogance of capability. this is important because we're capable of doing what most others are not. we identify ourselves by determining what we are not. and yet, confronted with the most basic human truth, that we are mortal, there is no capability to overcome or run beyond or just push through. cancer wins, and far too often.
i reached toward my face to brush off a maddening drip. in the fury of movement dexterity became paw. i could only be described as animal.
the major evolution for people and prey was the separation between breathing and eating. all of a sudden, we could run. i ponder this to avoid choking on oversized bites of energy bar, chunks between chattering teeth, wrapper clamped between handlebar and wet, numb fingers. my hands look like those of a corpse, bloodlet and clean. my jaw grinds food. i go.
in order to tell truths about things, especially ourselves, it is often easiest and least disturbing if we dress them up in blatant, shocking horrors, something better buried than whispered or wept over.
but if you've never pulled a child from rubble or watched bullets push life out of your best friend's chest, you might get hung up on those truths, whoever's they are, and skip over the most important part being told.
we lie fantastically so you don't hear what we whisper in our sleep.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
it's going to be a tough new year.
a long time ago, i came to some ill-informed decision that spending, money or other perceived-to-be-valuable-to-someone-(likely)-else things, was bad. things of value are for saving. (in writing this, i am coming to the drastic conclusion that i was misperceiving what things were valuable, and to whom, but that's a whole other story…) so i carefully and haphazardly and completely unintentionally built up an odd list of things that should be saved. a random sample might have included:
- powerbars and clif bars - for times when the ride or backpacking trip was so epic that such an expensive bit of 'nutrition' should actually be employed
- carabiners - just in case
- first kisses - for the right time and place and lighting and face and..trembling
- dollars - for new gear or bike parts or things that kept me fascinated and motivated through the earning of the dollars
- virginity - hm…
- drawings, every single damn one - to show at my retrospective when i eventually became a famous artist
- love letters - they meant a lot, and it's not often things that mean a lot are given to people who need them
- frames on rolls of 36 exp. slide film - that stuff wasn't cheap
- sheets of pearl finish ilford photo paper - also not cheap, let alone readily available for purchase in the ottawa valley
- batteries in mini mag lites and portable cassette players - hm.
- inner tubes - somehow i rode patched tubes for the entirety of my riding days until i made it through my third year of university
- my dad's clothes - he's still around, and we still talk, but those threads meant a lot to me, frayed and faded and perfectly ill-fitting on me.
eventually, things got a little more figured out. i stayed sentimental and tried to adhere to a misinformed and misformed notion of my 'moral self'. i tried very hard to be a stand-up guy. i tried to see things through. i ended up doing a lot of things i didn't want to do at all. and i didn't do even more things that i was really, really dying to do.
she was not taller than average, but she held a poise and grace about her that belied some kind of regality. i thought her egyptian, a ruler, she was dark of hair and looked like someone whom should be obeyed, somewhere, somehow. i had asked her of her ethnic background, as my co-actor and i had been discussing her and how pretty she was. in the honest quest for the information, i completely missed the part where she assumed it was another pick-up line and rolled her eyes accordingly. dumb and unaware and just happy to be talking to two pretty girls at all, let alone at once, i smiled and waited for her answer: 'brazilian and lebanese'. i must have choked. there was goodness happening there. later on, her doctor would ask her why she didn't need a prescription. she didn't want to get into a long explanation regarding my misguided and grossly inflated sense of 'morals', so she responded that she just didn't. he persisted. he asked if she had a boyfriend. yes. didn't they have sex. no. why not. i don't know. does the boyfriend have something wrong with him. no…
lots of things wrong with him then and now, but one thing that has not changed is the sentimental self. one christmas i was dedicated to listing the things that made christmas christmas, and then i carried them out, with fervour, making sure that my family had christmas whether it was in a traditional way or not, whether my lady could leave the couch or not, whether i worried about the unborn baby we may never have or not, whether i was man enough to make it all happen or not. i needed christmas that year. i needed to get out my nostalgic and sentimental self and make some occasion, on my terms, with agency, on purpose. so many occasions in my life have just happened, more accidentally than epically, and more occasions must be made, and i have to see them coming first, so that i can get them right when they finally arrive, so that i can stop screwing it all up.
so this year, this new year, the first thing i did was get up before 8, put on a ton of clothes, and meet my buddy for a trail run in the frigid snow of the east don. we ran hard up and fast down. we cut new lines and i did my best not to bail while following his flying cleats over ice and snow and fallen brush everywhere. we got back to the parking lot, chests heaving and the sun peaking out for the first time in a long time, and i knew we had done something right. maybe that's where the occasion starts, without a ceremony, just doing the right thing at the right time, with everything we've got.
we are just five days into this brand new year, and there's someone else's baby that cries me awake every night, and my legs are just starting to come around to running and riding again, and there's a gleaming new torture machine in the living room, all set up and waiting, and i've already been through a whole other roller coaster of ceremony and saving. turns out, i'm no good at saving. so i was about two steps away from buying that full carbon TT bike in the west end yesterday after some craigslist flake failed to sell me a commuter mountain bike. i had shaken the sales guy's hand and given him my name, sized up the frameset, inquired about the specifics of warranty and service options, fondled the carbon a bit. i had made up my mind. only a phone call and a fitting away, that TT bike was mine. then i thought about it. i always overthink things, but i especially overthink the spending of money, especially when it's a big ticket purchase, especially when it's a purchase just for me. this time last year, i bought a wicked new camera body that i've only just now paid off. it was half as much as this bike, and it documented the adventures of my family all year, and will continue to allow me to make that special christmas calendar for others, and could make some other money if i ever got around to selling my portfolio better. that TT bike? that won't make me crap. it will really just be a series of holes in my savings, upgrading wheels, paying race fees, the list goes on. and it would only be for me. and the truth of it all: i don't really deserve it. i haven't put thousands of kilometers on the bike i already have. i haven't put thousands of hours on the trainer. i haven't gotten my big girl a bike that actually fits her. i haven't paid the goddam hydro bill. i've got dreams to pay for, and miles to go before i sleep.
there will always be another killer deal. (although, if anyone knows of an $80 mission workshop rambler bag in toronto that i sold two summers ago for quick cash, please send it my way…) but right now is the time to buckle down, to have something to show for myself, to put the time in, to earn things. it's going to be a long, hard year, but i'm pretty sure that's all i'm built for anyway. bring it.