11/24/2011

Race Report: The Turkey Trot!

Today I ran the 30th annual Turkey Trot at the Boar's Head.

But, I'll be honest.

I really didn't want to bother. I was so tired this morning when I got up, and I really wanted to sleep in. I'd worked the night before, and then lost my dog for a few hours. My sleep was broken as I worried about him. He eventually came back, and I was looking for an excuse to justify not running the

But, my friend Normajean had transferred her registration to me, and I'd picked up the packet, and I didn't want to let her down. I didn't want to let myself down, either. I've not run a 5K in a very long time, and I wanted to see how I could do.

Part of me didn't want to go because I don't have my children today, and sometimes it's hard to be around other people and their families. I kind of just wanted to be by myself and relax and wasn't sure if I wanted to be around a crowd.

These negative forces were penning me in, and I was wavering and wavering about whether to go. I sat in the car for about two minutes before deciding if I really wanted to start it up. I felt paralyzed.

In the end, I knew I had to go, and just run the race. I had to do my best.

I used to work near the Boar's Head and have a lot of memories from there, and the time I was with my second wife. It is a beautiful complex, with a magnificent pond. I'd never really been back in the Ednam Forest subdivision. My friend Harry had told me it was a steep course, with a particular killer hill halfway through mile 2.

So, I went, and I got there just a few minutes before it started. I jogged half a mile to the start line to warm up. Somehow my GPS watch had gotten on the magic setting that shows my pace rather than my speed. I can never figure out how to make it to do that and can't always translate miles per hour into something that makes sense.

I took this as a good sign, and I was in good spirits at the start line. I was by myself and all around me were families, friends, students, everyone formed in a temporary community to run this race. Hundreds of people had entered the race, and I only recognized a handful of them but didn't go over to say hello because we were so close to the start.

I waited patiently and my mind was calm. I did not have a sense of nervousness at all. I was focused on pushing my body to do something my mind really didn't want it to do but had consented anyway.

And then the starter's gun went off, and suddenly we're off. I was behind a block of slower people for a minute, but I did not get frustrated. We took off due east, straight into the sun. I thought about the power of that magnificent star, giving us everything that we are, the source of so much of our life. The sun shined so powerfully on us and I imagined my cells were being powered by its light. And I ran, ran as fast as I could for that first mile.

If you've never run a race, I have to say you really should. It's a remarkable thing to do. If you follow my postings on Facebook of my runs, you'll see I average about an 8:00 pace. That's the amount of time it takes me to run one mile. Now, that's the average of all sorts of velocities I may be running in at any given point. On flat portions, I'll try to push myself. On the uphills, I'll try to tell myself to slow down. On the downhills, I try to let gravity take over so my heart and lungs don't have to work quite as hard to go fast.

But during a race, I can seemingly run faster. I want to do better than I did previously, and I want to do as well as I can.

That doesn't mean I want to beat other people, but their presence motivates me and pushes me harder. And one of the most interesting things about racing are the fellow racers who end up in your pace group. You begin to wonder if you can push just a little faster than them. You wonder who they are, why they run, what they get out of this. I watch the way they run, the way they breathe, and I'm amazed at how similar we are, as animals who have decided to propel ourselves across asphalt as fast as we can. We're not being chased by anything real. We're running for the sake of running and it is marvelous.

I ran the first mile in 7:05, which surprised me. I thought I was a little slower than that. I felt fine, but up to that point it had mostly been flat. At that point, we were back in the neighborhood, and it was fairly hilly. I seemed to be at the tail end of one pack, with another one about 100 feet behind me. Ahead of me, some of the elite runners were almost halfway through the course.

I try not to think about that.

I ran, and I ran, and as the race went on, I began to fatigue a little. My mind reminded my body to stick to form, and to watch the pacing, and to remember that this is a race. My mind and body worked together to achieve a goal, as opposed to my mind getting in the way of things.

I hit the second mile marker at 15:00 even. The second mile was mostly uphill, so I didn't think this was too bad at all.

I could not run three years ago when my life took a dramatic turn. I was almost 200 pounds and my body was definitely not running the show. So, as I've remarked time and again, I worked hard and learned how to become a system of mind and body. I learned how to cheer my mind up by running hard, by forcing my body to achieve a higher performance. I ran my first Charlottesville Ten Miler in less than 80 minutes (I ran it in exactly 80 the second time around). I can achieve if I work hard.

I've spent the last two months getting back in shape. I'd been in a relationship and I'd let my body go again as I let my mind experiment with emotional attachment. I put someone else before exercise,  and when that ended, I picked up the same habit that had sustained me previously.

And here I was, on Thanksgiving Day, running just as fast as I could, running downhill now, coming closer to the end of the course.

In my peer group was someone who I recognize as a marathon runner. A friend of hers had been further back in the pack but had sprinted up but stopped when she got to the woman, whose name is Leah. The friend perhaps thought Leah was starting to lose steam. We were running at a 7:20 pace at this point, and those hills had taken a lot of energy to get through.

I was pushing myself pretty hard, and I was thinking about being a human, and was thankful that I get to be the sort of creature that gets the choice to do this. To run with reckless abandon on a day in which our culture encourages us to appreciate all that we have. This existence, that golden sun shining and illuminating our every day, our every moment.

What fuels us? What makes us go? What makes us get up when things are completely shattered and broken? How can we find hope in a world that times seems one Sisyphus would recognize?

For some of us, we need multiple sources of fuel. Maybe all of us need that. All of us need to feel connected to this universe in fundamental ways that have meaning and give shape to our improbable existence.

I am glad I found running, because it showed me a way of living my life that I desperately needed when another source of fuel dried up suddenly. I'm glad I have found the hobby of playing music. I know there are other sources of fuel for meaning that I will find if I don't close out the possibility.

Leah was struggling, and her friend was encouraging her.

"Come on, Leah, you can hear the finish line! You're on pace to beat your personal record for a 5K! Come on!"

I heard this, and decided to push myself. I dug in and ran as fast as I could. I wanted to get to the finish  as fast as I could.

Less than half a mile was left to go, and there I was, on a road I'd been on so many times before as an employee. I was running, picking up my pace, enjoying the beat of footfall all around me, all of us careening towards the end trying to do the best we can. Coming so close now, finish line 1000 feet away or so.

However, my body was not so happy with the idea of pushing full out. I have a tendency to throw up if I run too fast for too long. And sure enough, I could feel the backlash welling within. I slowed down, and Leah and her friend crossed just in front of me. Another guy or two had sprinted past me.

But I wasn't mad at myself. As I approached the finish line, I looked at the clock, and I was doing well. My mind was pleased, and both mind and body were pleased I did not go through with the violence of vomiting, and I crossed at 22:46. I went through the chute, handed in the bottom part of my bib, and then went to grab a coffee.

I didn't know anyone there. When the race was over, I felt like an outsider again. I didn't feel like socializing, but I went and watched people crossing the finish line for a while. It's amazing how different people run in different ways. Some people seem to run effortlessly. Others seem to have to huff and puff and swing their arms majestically.

And different kinds of people run. Tall people. Skinny people. Old people. Little kids. People with weight. People with amazingly perfect bodies. Fathers crossing the finish line with their sons.

Everyone of those people had determination to do the best they could.

And I do the best I can.

I did not stick around for the awards ceremony. To be honest, I saw way too families together, and I didn't want to let the emotional pain into my mind. There is nothing I want more than my children at the end of a race. They've never been there for any of that.

But I hold out hope they will be. I hold out hope that someday I'll have them at the end of a race, or I'll get to run with them in a family event like this.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful of so much. I am thankful that I have three beautiful children, all of whom are doing well. I am in all of their lives to some capacity, and I work so hard to move towards the light of positive feeling so that I can build a life that always seeks improvement.

11/22/2011

In praise of Radio Bistro at the C&O

At the end of a marathon City Council meeting the other night, I went to the bar at the C&O to wind down and to check out Radio Bistro. James Ford was there spinning discs. As soon as I shook his hand, Brian Eno's "Needle in a Camel's Eye" blares out as loud as possible and I knew I was in the right place.

I went in alone. I didn’t bring a notebook so I became the nerd at the bar with something to say, but no proper way to say it. I brought out my laptop, and it was a bit rude to insult the wooden bar by placing plastic upon it, but that’s all I had. If I had a paper and pen, I would use that.

The music pulsed and I could feel the pulse flow through me and I could feel the notes oscillating, aware of the magic that my ears perceived vibrations in the air and my brain somehow translated into something that brought me joy.

A new chapter has begun in my life, and I want to stay there. I do not want to slip back into the pages of what has come before and I do not want to dwell in the past. I do not want to upset the past by going back there to reinterpret it as something it was not. Instead, I will have to reach into the future by remaining in the present.

Oh, the jargon, the semantics, the nervous energy calmed by a deep breath blown out through the nose. The feelings of inadequately caring for anything, for caring about the wrong things and for not knowing how to tell the difference until it’s too late.

There are things that I’m aware of, but don’t quite see. Increasingly I can see people just outside my line of sight, and they’re not there. I look straight ahead, and they’re there in the corner again, but when I go to look they’re gone. I’m only certain of a few things at a time, and then my mind flows on to something else. This is not necessarily a good thing by any means. It’s just the way things are.

The music kept flowing, one amazing song after another, and my fingers typed wildly on the key board. I wrote 2,000 words in half an hour. There had been so much energy in City Council.
I watched a sea of people in red explain how they are coming together because of the Occupy Charlottesville movement. I remain neutral, neutrino-like, but I was glad I had witnessed their testimony.

Three years on from the end of my marriage and I have turned out okay, even though I still remain aware of the heartbreak every day. I know it’s all of my own doing. There is no one else to blame but me and everything is going pretty well as I continue to experience my place in this universe.

Earlier in the day, I had run eight miles today, and this made me understand I am qualified to live this life. I am qualified to make it through the day, and I have a right to my own happiness as well. I’ve been in a funk for three months now, more or less, and now I’m ready to put all of that behind me and move on because I feel I’ve had to have paid my dues by now, right?

I feel like a veil has lifted and I’m thinking clearly again. I have to pay careful attention to my mind to remain positive. I put a lot of energy into a relationship that was always doomed, and there are still live nerves that need to be forgotten. I fished and fished even though I had no bait.

And then James started playing a sad song from a Motown singer, one about a relationship that’s ended, and I could feel her soul as if it were there in the C&O with us. I reflected about how
someone who put their heart and soul in a song, or put a heart and soul in a song they wrote, and then it got produced into something human that lasts. An idea that dances, an idea that pulses with thought and emotion and soul. How does one create this sort of thing?

I wish I knew. My own songwriting has hit a dead end because I seem not to be able to get off the improvisation. I need a collaborator, but that person is hard to find. Maybe I should be more open and just open up to more people but time is the main factor.

There are things to say and I’d better hurry up and start to say them. There are things to say and my time on my earth, my time alive, is finite and I’d better take more risks, not less.

Three years gone, and I’ve lived. I’ve lived and loved and made good choices and made bad choices, but generally I know I’m in the right place, doing the right things to get back to normal, to finally find some sort of happiness. I’ve always thought that happiness had to have something to do with the feeling you get when someone loves you, but that’s always been fleeting. So much of the pain of the past thousand days has been related to the fact that I did love someone, and that someone turned out to not be able to love me. Or, broke free of the love because of how I was, and she had no loyalty, and why would she? Second marriages end all the time. We all find ourselves broken as we float higher and higher into the sky, chopped up by the giant blades.

Now I want to try my best to get better about figuring out how to position myself for the future. It’s a future where I have two school age children who need my guidance and encouragement and love.

And then as 2:00 am approached, "Cross the Breeze" by Sonic Youth came on and I knew all is well in the universe, because those particular vibrations fit so well in the geology of my life. Hearing that song, in that place, where I danced to old time music last Christmas with friends I've had to said goodbye to, I was reconnected to the first time I heard the song in 1990 as a kid in high school. Kim Gordon blaring out “Come on down to the store, you can buy some more, more, more” and I remembered that.

I remembered that even on the day I die, hopefully in my nineties, I’ll be able to hear this and I’ll be able to feel alive. I’ll be able to take some meaning from the way this pulse sounds, I’ll be able to know where I was at every single moment I heard this song.

Thirty-eight years of life, and I refuse to believe that this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. This doesn’t have to be second best. I have to remember that I have a choice of how I respond. Do I want this to be a life in which I lament what happened, or do I want to have a life where I get to decide what happens next? Do I want to be scared, or do I want to be excited and passionate and willing to accept new pulses, new ideas, new concepts?

I know the answer. It’s staring me right in the face. It’s all around me in this cloud of sound and fury, signifying everything, signaling chaos and energy and dissonance and distortion, everything I love.

Sadness evaporates.

Towards the end of loss

I am so tired of feeling sad all the time. I'm doing something about it.

I am resolving to think different.

Three years now since my marriage ended and I've moved through so many chapters. If I look within, I can't quite remember exactly what the actual cause is for this feeling in my stomach, this wrenching, and the constant battle to stop fixating.

The memories of loss are so sharp, and echoing so much these days. This happens every fall, when the leaves go down exposing the sharp realities of wooden networks. Everything laid bare, everything so spare.

I do not hate loss and I do not hate sadness. I've been around on Earth now for long enough to know that these things go in cycles. I get dizzy and the sadness fills within me. This is part of being human, and I acknowledge that I am human publicly in the hopes it might actually move me forwards the light.

11/21/2011

Positive things about Court Square Tavern

For the past two months or so, I've been focusing on all of the negative aspects of my second job at Court Square Tavern. What had been a fun place to work has become incredibly stressful. Part of this is structural, and some of this is related to a realignment of my love life.

But here I am by myself behind the bar, ready for another night of working here by myself. I will take care of everything, and I am sure I will leave it somewhat messy when I leave here in eight hours or so. I will try my best to get everything cleaned up, but I'm sure there will be something I don't do right, so I can await a nasty note from the general manager.

I will shrug off that note, because I know that I will make people happier as a result of coming in here. That's the first positive thing I can say about Court Square Tavern. I enjoy the customers who come in. I know so many people, and so many people know me, because I am the guy who runs this place on Saturdays. I will listen to interesting people talk about politics, and I'll jump in. That's the bartender's right, you know.

The second positive thing is that I'm being paid to be here. I'll keep the tips and this will all go directly towards my children. And hopefully, I'll help creating this community, this place in Charlottesville that is just a little different than any other place. It is not perfect by any means.

***

Three hours since the above. The dishwasher is broken and spewing water through a broken pipe. That means I'll have to wash dishes in the back, which throws a wrinkle into working by myself. Earlier, I got through a small rush and cooked a few things, which is always difficult.

I've stayed positive so far tonight, and there are only three and a half more hours until I can clean up.

***

The night ended up being one of the best in a long time. It was very relaxing, enjoyable, and I got to see an old friend who was back in town.

The places we spend the most time in should be places of joy, and not places of stress.