Saturday, December 31, 2011

33. Wake Up And Fight

   I like the idea of New Year's Resolutions/Goals/Rules/Plans. I like the idea of taking a moment to reflect upon what exactly it is that I want to get out of my life. Of course, plans and goals can change. Unexpected opportunities and circumstances can shift the direction that I want to go. And I'll never live long enough to do all of the things that I can dream of doing. But I'm going to try to do them all anyway. And making a list every now and then is helpful.

Woody Guthrie's Resolutions for 1942
   Most of the things that I'll put on my annual list are specific. Such as last year's "Run Three Marathons", "Clean the Apartment on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of Every Month", or "Blog At Least Once a Month." (I ran two, and I missed the third due to injury. The apartment... Well, there's gonna be a do-over in 2012 on that one. And as for blogging, you're reading Post #52.)  I like to be specific because I'm a cheater at heart. And I need a system that doesn't allow me to convince myself that I've done something, when I actually haven't.

   For other people, the list is more abstract. Do this more. Do that less. Be mindful of this thing and that. And if that works, then that's fantastic.
Feb 2011 - Learning To Ice Skate

   But whatever form the list takes, the process itself is worthwhile. The process of asking yourself to consider what is important. What is fulfilling. And then making the conscious decision to move in that direction. The decision to move with purpose.

2011 Polar Plunge - Lake Michigan
New Year's Day
   It's not so easy as it sounds, of course. And I come up short often. But it beats living life with one hand on the snooze button. So with 2012 just a few hours away, I want to throw a few of my plans out into the internet.

   Writing. Last year, I just wanted to get comfortable with the idea of taking something that I'd written and putting it out into the world. I've done that with this blog. I've posted some random musings from my day to day life, and I've posted other things that have been quite personal. I'm going to continue with that, but I want to do more. I write fiction. I'm not terribly good at it. But I'm not terrible either. Before 2012 is over, I will submit at least three stories for publication. It doesn't really matter where. But I will put them out into the world. I will also complete the project that I've started, which involves interviewing marathoners and writing their stories.

Cleveland Marathon - May 2011

   Running. I will run three marathons. Prague in May. Denver in September. And Sacramento in December. I will train my ass off. And by December, I will qualify for the Boston Marathon.

   Travel. Three new countries. Czech Republic. Poland. Russia. Two new states. Oregon and Washington.

   I'm going to fill that list up with some smaller goals too. But that'll do for this post.

   Thank you, whoever you are, for taking the time to read this blog. I hope you've had a great year. And I hope you've got an even better one coming. Happy New Year, Internet Surfers! See you in 2012!  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Preaching and Practicing

"All it takes is all you got." - Marc Davis

   I was on the treadmill yesterday and my thoughts drifted to a friend. I was going to meet this friend for coffee after I left the gym. Our original plan was to meet for pizza. (She is a former Chicagoan. And I would imagine that upon leaving this city, one of the more devastating losses to deal with would be the loss of Chicago pizza.) But pizza was cancelled. Though not because Chicago pizza became any less delicious. It was cancelled because she was at the borderline starvation stage of her seemingly endless cycle of dieting.

   It's a frustrating process to watch. In part, because I know how fruitless and unhealthy that process is. But also because she knows how fruitless and unhealthy that process is, yet she continues with it anyway. However, I've had that conversation more times than I've cared to, and so I just agreed to switch to coffee and I kept my self-righteous rants to myself.

   As I continued to run, my thoughts breezed on through other topics, before eventually settling on my upcoming marathon training schedule. I've been fighting an ankle injury for months. I think that it's more or less healed at this point, but I know that I need to do more to build the strength back up. I need to do ankle exercises on a consistent basis. That kind of stuff is not my strong point though. No part of marathon training outside of the actual running is my strong point. I don't stretch enough. I don't swim enough laps. I should lift weights more often. I should do yoga more often. I should invest in compression socks to help my legs recover from long runs. I should do a lot of things. But I don't.

   And as I thought these thoughts, I began to recognize the similarities between my cycle, and that of my friend. I know what I need to do. I know that doing these things will help me achieve goals that I've been unable to reach so far. Yet I continue my pattern of short-cuts and half-measures anyway. I continue with my fruitless practices even as I preach to somebody else about the absurdity of doing the same damn thing. The hypocrisy is hard to ignore.

   And this pattern exists in other areas of my life as well. In college I rarely missed a good History or English Lit class. But I skipped the hard sciences on a regular basis. Regardless of the knowledge that those were needed for a diploma. When I clean my home, I inevitably stuff junk into a closet or a drawer. Pushing aside an easy task, and saving it for a tomorrow that often never comes. In my private and public life, I often choose to do just enough. Just enough to keep my head above water. Like paying nothing but the interest on an old debt, even when it is within my means to pay it all off.

   Which brings me to here. To this morning. To this keyboard. In just a few days, I will begin an eleven month training schedule. A training schedule that I'm writing out right now. I will run three marathons in that span. The goals are simple. Set the bar high, yet realistic. Train hard. Train smart. Train honest. Skip nothing. Take no short cuts. And cross the Finish Line of that third marathon in under 3:10:00. Qualify for the Boston Marathon.

   Half-measures won't get me there. Nor will excuses. There is no easy route. There is no pushing it off for another day. Either bridge the gap between what I preach and what I practice. Or come up short. Either, or.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


" experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars --- compassion, love, and the subsurface unity of all things." - David Foster Wallace

   I took a cab home from work last night. The driver was a middle-aged man and he had a thick accent that I assumed came from somewhere in Africa. He asked me where I was heading, and then he returned to his cell phone conversation. His voice was loud and his demeanor jovial. He had large hands with knuckles like fat acorns, a big soft smile, and deep lines on his forehead. He laughed often and with his whole body.

Sahara Desert
   As the cab took us south on Halsted, I noticed something irregular about the driver's speech. A hitch and a stutter. And I felt a bit surprised by that. I was surprised because I have a preconceived notion, a shallow stereotype, of what a stutterer is like. Anxiety ridden, timid, insecure, etc. And this man seemed to be far from any of those things.

   And then I realized that I was mistaken. There was no hitch. No stutter. The man was using a language that includes clicks and pops and something that seemed to come from the top of the throat and the roof of the mouth. As if he were gathering phlegm. The sounds were more quiet than those that were more familiar to my ears. Just soft and subtle sounds among the louder bits of English, French, and something unrecognizable.

   And as I listened intently to the man's conversation, I became more and more curious about him. I climb into at least a couple hundred cabs a year, and almost all of those drivers are foreign born. But this time, as I listened to these foreign sounds from the back seat, I stopped to consider just how radically different this man's native country may be from the one that he lives in now. And I wanted to know about those differences. Or perhaps there are more similarities than I'd guess. Which I'd also like to hear about. Either way, I just wanted to hear this guy's story.

   I didn't get his story though. He did finish his phone call a few blocks prior to pulling up in front of my building. So I was able to ask him where he was from. But that was it. I decided to be content with that.

   He is from Algeria. The largest country on the African continent. Home to vast stretches of Saharan Desert. Home to the Atlas Mountains and Mediterranean coast lines. Large cities in the north. Oil reserves in the south. Home to obscene wealth and widespread poverty. Home to Berbers and Arabs. Home to despots and civil wars. Home to countless tribal groups and the cultural stamp of English/French/Italian colonial powers. Home to fishermen and blacksmiths. Beggars and thieves. Home to mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters. And home to cab drivers.  

   And I wonder where this cab driver's story fits in. He was born in Algeria. A little baby. Probably some time in the 1960s. Probably into one of the densely populated cities in the north. Perhaps Algiers? Maybe Oran or Constantine? How long did he stay there? What was his experience like? What was his family like? Did he leave them behind when he left the country? Or were they here in Chicago with him today? Were they even alive? Does he miss home? Does he lay awake at night and think of somebody that is half a world away?

Atlas Mountains
   Obviously I'll never know the answers to those questions. Our paths crossed briefly. I won't be more than a slight gust of wind in the story of his life. But I want him, even if it's just a small piece of him, to be a bit more than that in mine.