Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Building With Words


Sometimes I build things with my hands, wooden constructions from utilitarian to what might loosely be described as artistic. I would characterize myself as an an advanced putterer or an amateur with low ambition. I find a satisfaction in building benches, bookshelves and the like because, unlike writing, there is a quantifiable end product.

Does my bookshelf hold books, are there streaks in the finish, is it level? If a bench falls apart when I sit on it, that means the bench is a failure. With splinters in your ass, it is impossible to tell yourself that you made a masterpiece. In other words, delusions for a carpenter, whether amatuer or professional, are nearly impossible to maintain with any credibility.

Not so with writing.

In my life, I’ve written some atrocious prose that stubbornly I believed was inspired. Now, I have never allowed the conceit of perfection to color my assessment of what I write, as I am far too critical of my skills to go that far, to imagine that I can produce a work that is Great. Yet, writing is such a personal pursuit that the failure of the words is a failure of the writer, the two so entwined it is impossible not to infuse, and confuse, meaning and worth where none exists, simply to avoid failure in one and thus proving the failure of the other. More simply, if my words stink, then I too, as the creator, stink.

Where I work when at work
With writing, it is impossible to pull out a ruler and say, yes, this sentence is exactly the length and dimension I need to support the next sentence which I have carefully measured as well. Certainly there are those writers who do write with a formula, who are successful with cookie-cutter novels that read like factory produced replicas only with a slight variation of color. I enjoy many such authors, in fact. But rarely do I ever remember anything particular about such books and still, even those mass produced series have an intangible essence that must come from the writer, independent of structure.

The essence of the writing can’t be forced upon a work just like with carpentry, where application of force destroys the final product every time. Lately with my writing, there has been far too much force, and with that, too many delusions that the end result is unaffected. There is a definite line between perfectionism and honesty, but I don’t think I’m being hyper-critical of my recent output.

If my writing were a bench, I would definitely have the need to pick more than a few splinters from a sore backside.

But Folks, frustration aside, I’m okay with the reminder: don’t force writing, a stubborn woodgrain or life. Take a deep breath and drive on.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Running In March In Maine


I knew I went out too fast, but this was my year.

Every year for the past fifteen years was going to me my year and every year I begin again, thinking the same thing, thinking that I would run and not embarrass myself, that I would recapture the speed I once had (slight as it was) and that this is my year would be true. I was a fervent January believer and unfortunately, a March failure. Or sometimes I would last until July, delaying until the big 3k on the fourth to realize that, no, this was not the year after all.

The deceit sometimes lasted through the summer into the fall, but a lie can only last so long with the cold truth of the finish line time mocking in cruel digital numerals. Those finish times told me with no remorse that I was in fact fat, had no endurance and possessed a lazy work ethic.

And I was a year older. Teenage legs can overcome deficiencies that thirty and thirty-five and now thirty-six year old legs could never hope to defeat.

But then January arrived and that whisper began in my head, a regular new year companion. I was going to fly, I would be relevant; my year was this year.

March in Maine is a bad bet weather-wise for a road race. The first day of spring this year we were dumped on with more than a foot of snow. Three years ago, the Flat Top 5k, the first race I will consider to run, was held on March 27th and the race results describe the weather as: clear, 20 degrees, brisk north wind. March is a tough bet on which to risk a weak runner’s soul.

The race gods were kind this year, though. Sunshine ruled, a light breeze blew and the temperature was a solid 45 degrees. Conditions were near perfect.

But I went out too fast.

I had a plan, and man, I really wanted to believe in myself this year. Give me straight seven minute miles, let me have a solid race. I had the jitters. Before the race I complained of pain in my feet, I had a lousy week of practice when I thought I had broken my foot on the treadmill eighteen minutes into the run and nearly was carried off the machine into the sheetrock wall. Just a bad cramp, but damn it hurt.

Race days are not friendly for me. I think of all the bad things, think that maybe I’ll forget how to run, will trip at the start, will throw-up, mess my shorts, have to drop out halfway through and then be forced to walk in shame, my number a clear identification that I thought I was a runner but clearly was just a pretender.
I’m a complainer, as my wife so accurately points out. That isn’t a cruel statement, or intended as hurtful. My natural tendencies are far more hurtful than the truth spoken out loud with a combination of love and frustration.

I can be my worst enemy.

The yelled, “Go!” put me into the center of my fears, surrounded me and nothing was left but to run. So I did. The slow runners who, for some reason, always place themselves toward the front of the start pack and who have no intention or ability to actually run fast, were immediate but expected obstacles.

A far colder run at the Flat Top 5k
I start right but am met by a solid mass of mostly chubby, older women, one of whom has a tattoo on her left calf that represents one of the local running clubs. My annoyance is immediate because she should know better than to place herself so far in the front, then act as part of a wall for runners behind- all ink and no sense is what I think before sliding to the left. The left is hardly better, though.

We have another group of athletes in our small community, those of the crossfit persuasion. I’ll give them props for their dedication but in a race, there’s no way any of them will run fast enough with seventy pounds draped over their shoulders to justify clogging up the start. Annoyance is changed to a laser-focused anger as my options dwindle.

I go extreme left, now, where spectators drift onto the road and cones and signs mark the course. I narrowly miss a collision with a man named pete who washes windows in town and would probably curse seven ways to Sunday if I had made contact. He certainly didn’t try to avoid me. Or anyone else.

A quarter mile into the race and I’m free, free and I know I need to consider pace. Oh god, I need to put on the brakes because there’s Mr. Jordan and he’s faster than me and I shouldn’t pass him. I tell myself to slow down and you know, I just can’t, as stupid as I know my pace is, that going this fast will wreck my race.

I love going fast.

I lost my mind in that first mile. I was fast but my legs had more and my body was mine to do with as I wanted and wanted to go fast; finish-line be damned!

6:05, :09, 6:11, :12- Jesus, I thought. 6:16, :17, 6:18 and there I am, forty-two seconds too fast. I feel giddy even as sanity creeps in. I do the math, judge my training, try to n\make a rational decision.

The turnaround on the out-and-back is in sight. Halfway. Still too fast. Survive or burn-out? My two options at this point. Which should I choose? I make no conscious decision. I don’t want to make that choice; one feels like suicide while the other too much like my usual response of failure in the face of a challenge.

With a mile left there is no choice. It is early in the year, my base mileage isn’t enough, my body has given what it could and all I’m left with is my questionable mind, my critical inner self telling me to give in, my tendencies that have proven failure is a tougher foe than me time and time again.

Somehow I tell my mind to get the hell out of my way, to shut up, to stop being such a goddamn whiner and I gut out the last mile, exactly on pace, a final seven minute mile forced on me by fatigue and a first mile only a crazy man would consider running.

I feel too good about the 25th place or the respectable 20:53 to mention being smoked in the final 200 meters by a woman who obviously ran a saner race and just wanted 24th place more than I did. And I’ll skip the metallic taste in my mouth that had me bent over a stone hitching post ready to let go of my breakfast without any care in the world of who was watching but holding valiantly on, sparing myself that indignity.

I hate training but love running. Training is that interminable step when you have to force your body to do what you want it to do, what you know it can do. Running is the after, the time when you can go fast, run long. Running is the feel of wind in your hair and all roads are yours to take.

Running is giving up the fear and embracing the love.

I love to love running. Even in March in Maine.