Tuesday, November 15, 2016
the wind pushed my back. water-based birds sailed overhead. i passed more birdwatchers with very long lenses and full heads of hair. they laughed as they talked. something called to us, on our stretch of toronto thrust out into the lake, and we all seemed to look up at the same time, at the same thing. the moon hovered just above the water. i looked over my shoulder and saw the sun as it soaked the lake and sky with the same dying orange. i picked up my pace like i could outrun the night. i ran toward the moon. she rose, like she always does, calmly and with serene indifference. do not swear by the inconstant moon. run.
that was sunday. monday night, i ran like a coursing thing, chasing unknown friends down milky grey gravel paths out, out into the lake. nothing flew overhead except those small planes coming in from ottawa to land on the island. fallen stars that took a long time to drop. i ran underneath them. i ran next to weeds that reached out to touch my elbow. i ran next to the lake pounding the rubble-strewn shore. all i could hear was gravel under my feet. all i was listening for was friends.
i found them, eventually, coming down from a break at the lighthouse, and we embraced and laughed at my frantic pursuit. then we kept running. we talked about great canadian novels and infant oncology and getting lost. we ran on. the moon kept watch. in that light, we were all young.
then it was tea and cookies and the last crumbs of conversations. we ran back to the gate. it was miles of darkness that felt like minutes. like hours in life are seconds in dreams. like kisses never last long enough.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
the road bends before the top, hiding its summit around rock cuts and green tractor mailboxes. the hill is barely a hill. it is not long, nor steep, nor anything of any particular note, except that it must always be gotten up, always at the end of the run or ride, always into the wind. i trudged on in the gravel, thinking about this. this hill has been with me for most of my life, it has never let me down, and it has always let me know exactly who i am.
i have listened to six different versions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in the past hour. i wanted one to bring me tears. i wanted so badly to sit in front of my laptop, plugged into my earbuds, and to let warm saltwater drip down my face. there is so much to be sad about. and even though the country where i was born chose a buffoon to lead them to failure. and even though Leonard Cohen left us all behind last week. and even though daylight savings can't fix the encroaching darkness, the line that filled my eyes to overflowing was the one about love, and lost love, and love from long ago that is no more. it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah. hallelujah.
i saw my grandparents this weekend. they looked spry. they looked like the people who were around for 80 years doing the right thing. they looked tired from it, but mostly satisfied if even still a bit hungry for more. always fighters, those ones. and i picked up my daughter today. she looked tired. she looked like the kind of kid who gives it all, every time, all the time, and might need a bit of a break. i made her chicken and rice and peas and sent her to bed. she will fight again tomorrow. and all of the days after that.
the words don't come to me like they used to. i was undone by Leonard Cohen's, as he never lost his touch, he never blocked it all up with a bunch of crap, or sent it down the same old worn-in groove. his were the words we used every day, just said better, or even sung. maybe if i could course them through my heart i could make love without the cold and broken hallelujah.
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.