3/23/2009

Introducing my electronic past


For years, I've wanted to do something with the hours of electronic noise I used to create as a hobby. I began this hobby about ten years ago, and spent a lot of time using various programs to assemble collages of cacophony. I've kind of lost interest of late, but when I installed the Yahoo player a few months ago, I figured I would upload a track here and there as a way of building a soundtrack for the site.

First up is this track, which I made six or seven years ago, right after I first moved to Charlottesville. I don't remember anything else about it except to say that it's called "Understood Enemy." The track came on in iTunes this morning at the precise moment I got an e-mail from someone who fits that description, so I thought I should reveal it to the world.

Understood Enemy

Nothing earth-shattering, but it's something I did once.

3/21/2009

Notes on my first race

At 8:30 AM I was standing at a table in Newcomb Plaza at the University of Virginia, writing a check to the race director of the Camp Holiday Trails 5K Race. A friend of mine I recently met through my roommate had told me about the event through a comment on my Facebook page on Thursday. I had the space in my schedule to enter, but was concerned I wasn't mentally prepared.

When I woke up at 7:30 AM, I looked out my second-floor window at the thermometer that hangs on the garden wall. 30 degrees. The part of my mind that's responsible for coming up excuses was pleased, because that was far too cold to run. My body would freeze, I thought. I wouldn't have a good experience.

Another excuse: I wasn't entirely sure if my friend was going to show up. We hadn't made concrete plans. But, I had made a decision publicly on Facebook, and people had wished me luck. So, I got up, stumbled downstairs, and thought seriously about simply watching the Battlestar Galactica finale instead. I put the kettle on, turned on the television, and then started watching the opening minutes of the show.

After waking up a bit, I got up, climbed the stairs, and got my running shorts on. I put on a fresh t-shirt, and put a long-sleeve t-shirt over top of that. I got my wool hat on, told the dog I'd walk him later, walked out the door and got in the car.

I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea how large a crowd would be there, or what the atmosphere would be like. Where would I park? Where would I leave my jacket? Would I have anyone to talk to?

In the past, not having an answer to the logistical questions would be enough to prevent me from going at all. And, I'm determined to not live in the past. So, I drove to the parking garage, walked up the stairs to Newcomb Plaza, and found the registration table. I wrote my check, but did not get a t-shirt because they'd run out. My friend wasn't there, but that was okay. I was going to run anyway.

Immediately, the energy of the crowd began to seep into me. I was watching to see what everyone else did. My fellow runners were a young group, though there were lots of people older than me as well. Most people had more advanced gear than I did. A lot of the women had leggings which looked incredibly comfortable. Most of the hats appeared to be synthetic, which I assumed meant they'd be a little absorbant. Many of the runners had changed into their white race t-shirts. Some were running around on warm-ups laps.

I did my stretches, and paced around to keep warm. Newcomb Plaza is blocked from the morning sun, and so I kept walking around inside Newcomb Hall to keep warm. When I came out once, I saw Jessica flanked by two men who were acting as her support group. I went over and said hello. We spent the next fifteen minutes talking about running, and I asked all kinds of questions.

The start of the race was delayed because the organizers had to come up with a last minute course correction. McCormick Road, the arterial spine that allows cars to navigate through Central Grounds, was closed because of construction to Monroe Hall. A gigantic crane blocked our way, and Mark Lorenzoni of the Ragged Mountain Running Shop told us through a megaphone that the start of the race needed to be moved to accomodate the fact that the detour added 600 feet to the course.

I asked Jessica and her friends what I should do. She said I should take my first mile slow, and then save my sprints for the end. One of the guys said I should start in the middle and the side of the pack so those who wanted to pass me could do so easily.

Lorenzoni told us we had to walk as a group to the new start point. We walked from Newcomb Plaza down the access road to University Avenue. Everyone was in good spirits, though I tripped over the feet of one of the people who was walking. He and another woman were wearing placards on their back which read: "We're Walking In the Memory of Boomer"

I cleared my mind before we started. Here I was, in this body that I've reclaimed ownership of, about to test it in front of all of these other people. Over 200 strangers walking along an access road, in an ad hoc fashion, all of us preparing in our way for what was about to start. Cars honked as they saw this mass of people at the corner of University and McCormick.

Someone held an orange flag up in the air. People murmured that we were starting on an incline. There was a dog very close behind me. Jessica had moved up to the front so she could get an easy start. I was calm, despite the aggravation of it seeming to take forever.

Usually, at the gym, I push a button and the conveyor starts moving. At that time, I'm a lone individual about to take an individual journey. As I've progressed through my training, I've been making adjustments to make it harder and harder. On Thursday, I started at the 6.0 incline setting to tire myself out at the start.

So, when the orange flag finally dropped I was ready and I shot up that hill as fast as I could. The route took an odd turn from the very start, as we turned left at the chapel and ran up the brick sidewalk that leads to the Rotunda, past some of the serpentine walls. At the Rotunda, we took a tight right and shot up the steps to the Lawn. I was giddy, as I knew this wasn't these things usually worked out. I ran on the grass, and jumped down the hills.

I noticed early on that I was beginning to pass people. I had no idea how fast I was going. All I knew was that I was running, and I was entirely familiar with the process of how my body was working together to perform what's an essential human activity. I was running. I was breathing. I was doing the thing that I have done since my separation, but this time, I wasn't running purely for exercise.

I've always avoided competition. I always tried to suppress the competitive urge within me because I've always wanted to minimize the disappointment that comes with not winning. When I was in third grade, my soccer team went 0-10. I was really good at kicking own goals, for some reason. Needless to say, I didn't keep playing in fourth grade.

Somewhere around this time, I lost touch with my body.

Running downhill on McCormick towards Alderman, I realized I've gained it back. After the initial crush of threading a pack of runners through a small passageway, those who absolutely wanted to win were well in front of me. I quickly told myself it was just a leisurely run and that I didn't need to push myself too much.

This was a time for me to do research on how other people run. Some people had incredibly large footfalls. Some people moved with no effort at all. These people pushed me to want to run even harder, so I picked up my pace a little. Jessica realized I was in front of me, and exclaimed: "Tubby?"

There was a dog behind me at that moment, as well, and for a second I imagined that the creature was chasing me, and ran a little faster. We turned onto a side street and started going down.

Downhill is a concept that doesn't exist on the treadmill. The best I get is when I put the incline down slightly. So, running downhill with people behind me is the closest feeling to weightlessness I've ever felt. I let my momentum do the work and I felt like I was free-falling. I let myself go a little faster, pulled ahead of the dog, and grinned like a loon.

Unfortunately, downhill usually means an uphill is on the way, and when we turned a sharp corner onto Bollingwood, I had to push myself harder than I usually do just to stay in front of the runners behind me. So, I tried to give it all I could, and up, up, up I went. My body was ready to comply, but not without damage.

At the top of the hill, the burps started. My body was pushing up to exhaustion, and I had no idea how much of the route was ahead of us. I was disappointed, because I wasn't in the race to win. I just wanted to try it out and have a fun experience. But, my body wanted to empty the contents of its stomach, and it wasn't going to take no for an answer. I threw up a little in my mouth, and spat it out. That wasn't enough. I stopped, pulled under a tree, and quickly finished the job.

Jessica ran past and asked if I was okay.

I joked, "It's all about the pacing!"

And then I started running again. Whatever needed to come up, came up, and I picked up the pace. I deduced that we had less than a mile left, and I made myself go as fast as I could. The weakness that came from the chest convulsions abated, and I took off. Back down McCormick now, and my mind started playing versions of the songs I listen to all the time on the treadmill. Each leg hit the ground one at a time. My existence in this moment was a machine designed to carry a payload of confidence to last into my future. I ran and passed as many people as I could. Back on the Lawn, I ran up the hills now, and felt that everything would be okay, just as long as I finished this race as best as I possibly could.

This was no treadmill. This was no practice. This was the real thing. Someone shot past me, and I was determined to not let anyone pass me. I didn't have much fuel left in me, and the finish line was all uphill. But, up I went, across the finish line and through a gantlet of plaza chairs that were placed in such a way that those who were done could pass through single-file past the man who was handing out slips of paper that gave us the order we finished in. I think I was handed a "42" though I may now be misremembering it. I gave my name at the results table, and headed over to the refreshments table. I downed an almond bar, one and half salt bagels, and a bottle of Life water. We stood up on the steps and waited patiently for them to raffle off the prizes and announce the winners.

My prize was that I had completed the race, and I beat my expectations. I proved that I have been able to change my life through exercise. I've been able to give myself a new frame to enjoy the rest of my life, and something to measure my progress against. I thank all of the friends who have encouraged me as this new chapter of my life plays out. And, I look forward to meeting those I don't yet know.

3/15/2009

So grateful to YouTube

Sometimes I'm so grateful that YouTube exists. I heard a great song on WNRN yesterday, and called the station to find out who was playing it. The lyrics just took over and seemed to underscore exactly what I was thinking at the moment. Woman singing over top what sounded like homemade instruments, and it all came together into something powerful and meaningful.

The DJ told me the band was Psapp, and the track was Mister Ant. Or at least, that's what I heard. So, now I'm searching YouTube for that track, and of course, I'm in the process of discovering something I'm really enjoying, as well as seeing some really clever videos. Here's a couple of them:





These are worth watching for the videos alone, I think. I was feeling kind of down earlier, but watching these I'm cheered up and am glad for something new to add to the internal soundtrack. And one day I'll actually find the song I'm looking for. It's a question of how much research I want to do.

3/13/2009

Dealing with my inability to tie shoes

I don't know why, exactly, but I seem to have the inability to tie shoes. If you see me on the streets, chances are I have two weed wacker blades spinning around my feet as I walk. Strangers always tell me to be careful, but I never seem to trip. I double-knot, triple-knot and sometimes even quadruple knot. But, they still come untied. Each and every time. I have sort of come to accept it as one of my quirks.

But, my roommate told me politely the other night that this little quirk may be a hindrance as I enter the dating scene. She said that women tend to look at a man's shoes very quickly as part of the sizing-up process. I imagine a check-sheet somewhere with a series of categories. Looks would be on there. Height. Shoe size. Clothes. Mannerisms. Demeanor. Untied shoes may not be a distinct category, but they certainly won't help.

So, what shall I do? Is there a shoe tying course I could take? Maybe I could take that course as part of a bundle where I can learn more about clothes in general, as well as tying ties. The other week, I had to have my boss tie one. Yes, at 35, I still can't tie a tie properly. I've begun wearing ties because I'm trying to improve my ranking on the check-sheet, even though I'm not fully "out there" just yet.

I'd like to think, though, that my inability to keep shoes tied means something. But what? Is there something symbolic going on here, something about how I'm connected to this world in which we live? After all, the feet are what connect us to the ground, and at a fundamental level, I seem to be slightly askew.

Or is just an indicator of me being sloppy and having a particularly embarrassing learning difficulty? Does it have something to do with my roommate's guffaws with laughter last week at a honky-tonk in Pensacola when I got up to dance and my fly was down? Not sure. But it's fun to speculate.



3/10/2009

Thoughts on being disconnected

My fingers tap the keys at this moment minutes after getting back into town after four days away with my friends. In that time, I have not checked my e-mail once. I have not looked at a Facebook status update. I have not tweeted, twitter or twut. In return, I have a relatively clear head.

I don't even really want to check my mail. Can it wait until morning? I know there will be a mixture of good and bad news, and I'm not so certain I want to subject myself to that so late at night.

Four days. I've not gone that long without checking my mail for many, many years. In the past four days I had other things on my mind. My boss kindly left a post-it note to my computer which just said "Have fun and relax!" and I gleefully accepted that advice.

And so, I'll conclude my night right now without checking my mail. It can wait until morning.

3/05/2009

Anticipating four days away

This time tomorrow I hope to be on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I am traveling down with friends to see someone who left town about this time next year. I am toying with the idea of not taking a computer, not taking my iPod, not taking anything but me and a bag of clothes.

I will not be back until Monday night. Except for periodic trips to Smith Mountain Lake, I've not been outside of Charlottesville for more than one night for a long time. I've not been on an airplane in almost a year and a half. Come to think of it, this will be my first domestic flight in more than ten years.

When I was younger I thought I would have traveled the world by now. Or at least, I thought I would have seen more of the United States of America. Somehow, though, I've become ensnared by Charlottesville and it seems as if this will be my home for the foreseeable future. I'm glad to be here, but I'm salivating at the prospect of being in a place that is different, if only for a few short days.

I am hoping when I come back that I will be able to reframe how I view my time here. I hope I can find a way to put the past permanently behind me. At least, I'd like to stop the roller coaster ride of emotions that has been going on for the past three months. I'm hoping when I come back I will view things differently, and that I'll be able to use the experience of being outside to layer a new perspective over top of the old.



3/04/2009

Going to war against dread

Tonight I have to do something I don't want to. I have to put myself in an environment that could very well crush my spirit into a little ball. But, I have to do it. I have to be tough and just get through the pain.

Six hours out, I am not dreading this experience. But, as I get closer, I'm worried that the dread will turn my synapses into sand. Every thought will chafe and irritate and take me away from the path.

Writing publicly seems to be a way to make me feel a little bit better, and a little less humiliated about the way things are in this part of 2009. I've spared the public most of the details, and I will continue to do so.

I want to be consistent and be the same person every day. But I'm still grieving, and the process is not a predictable one. I may end up writing more about this later on tonight.

3/02/2009

A small victory for a single dad!

Thanks to comments from Kevin Cox in the last post. I'd have to say that given the circumstances of my living arrangement, I'm not entirely in control of where he sleeps. But, I will say that last night there was a small victory of sorts. Most notably that he slept almost entirely through the night! After a small struggle, I got him down by 9:00 PM or so. He woke up at 2:30 AM, but I got him down again. We all slept in until about 7:30 AM, and had a nice and slow time watching the snow continue to fall. Now we're sitting here having a nice quiet morning. Sam is playing with a box and I'm just about to turn off the television. The sun is shining outside, and I'm happy that I've made it through another night.