This morning was the first time it really hit me, emotionally. Watching the Chicago Marathon, that itch started, the desire to be out on a course, running. And next Sunday the Seven Bridges Marathon will start, and though I registered for it, began training for it, I won’t be there to run it.
In August I set off on a 15 mile training run. It was midday, not the best idea, but it was mild for early August. It was a normal run. My friends on the patio of Good People having a beer took great pleasure in my suffering—something all runners do, knowing next time it will be themselves suffering. After finishing, it was a normal evening, everything going according to plan. I woke up Monday and everything was wrong.
My neck, my shoulder, my upper back. It all hurt. A lot. Work was difficult and by Tuesday I was sitting in a sports medicine office being diagnosed with an aggravated nerve, likely C5 / C6 in my neck. A couple of weeks of rest and muscle relaxers, an MRI, and confirmation of a slightly bulged disc. More steroids and the beginning of PT. And just like that it had been three weeks of no running. The emotional and mental equivalent of going off antidepressants cold turkey. I was an unpleasant human. With some time, my brain chemistry managed to rebalance a little, and I was able to supplement with rowing and cycling before finally getting the go ahead to continue running. Easy. Low distance. No training.
I accepted fairly early on that Seven Bridges wouldn’t happen, but maybe I could get back in the swing of things and run the Four Bridges half instead. But no, getting the go ahead, but only easy low mileage, that was pushed off the table as well. Again, not a big deal, always another race another day. This morning was just a bit difficult. Last year I was in Chicago to watch a friend run. It’s one of the best spectator events in sports. It’s wonderful. I was training for Memphis at the time. A race that didn’t go as I’d hoped, a race I was hoping to make up for in Chattanooga at Seven Bridges. So, it all circles around.
Not everything about this experience has been negative. It’s been a time for reflection, rethinking the role of running in my life, exercise in general. As soon as I was allowed to return to running, I was more thankful for running than I have been in a very long time. And, as my physical therapist pointed out, I’m hitting the age where running alone isn’t enough. It’s time to consider my core strength, especially considering the long, and delicate neck, I’ve inherited. I’m learning how to stand again, with correct posture. Same for sitting. And running. It’s all new again as I focus on form in a way I haven’t in years. It’s a little awkward, sometimes frustrating, but in the long-term, hopefully it will make me a better runner. And help me avoid further injuries.
Waverly, AL. Standard Deluxe, the Fall Boogie. ‘Nuff said.
Taken a few minutes before totality in Dayton, Tennessee. My phone stayed in my pocket during totality. A total eclipse is a truly amazing experience. The difference between 99% and totality is worth a day’s drive. That’s about all that can be said.
Beer in hand within moments of getting home. This is how voting feels these days.
The day after locking one’s self out of the loft, one gets new keys made to leave with friends.
Slossfest 2017. Contrast of the singular and the communal.
I guess I should expect such things when wearing Oliver Sack’s favorite t-shirt.
I finished the story arc of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman recently. It took a little more than a year to get through the 75 issues, and as I mentioned once, I can’t help wondering what my reaction would have been to The Sandman had I read it when I began reading comics in my preteen and teenage years. It would have been quite the challenge, far more direct an assault on my nascent religious awaking than the X-Men or Spiderman. The themes of Spiderman can fit pretty neatly in a Judeo-Christian worldview, while the realm of Sandman in the hands of Gaiman deftly blends the myths of all religions into an amalgamation rooted in our subconscious needs, while anthropomorphizing metaphysical notions as the Endless gets rather deep in the philosophical waters of the human consciousness, myth making, and our need to understand the world around us; to create stories that help us come to grips with a world that often makes no sense.
Over the course of the year, some of the storylines enthralled me with the inventiveness of the world crafted by Gaiman. Others veered into fantasy and horror realms that were a bit more sludgy for me to get through. Though, as so often with genre fiction, even in the stories that I wasn’t as interested in, Gaiman offered insights into human nature, fears, hopes, and most appropriately dreams. But often, I found myself frustrated and angry with Morpheus.
Not to conflate myself with a significant literary figure, but I have to think much of my frustration with Morpheus was a result of the mirror he presented to me. His capricious nature, particularly to those around him. I’ve been prone to realize just how significant people are to me only after they’ve exited my life. A point eating away at much of my brain’s free processing time for the last couple of months. I hated how distant and withdrawn he could be. The the gothic romantic sensibilities of aloofness and so on. It just bugged the hell out me at times. He was a dick for lack of more subtle language.
And so too am I at times. It’s not enough to say that I’m moody and difficult (again, very much share with Morpheus). Acknowledging that fact doesn’t make it go away, or make it more bearable for those around me. It just highlights how little I’ve done to work it out, resolve it, or try to see things from a partner’s perspective. More specifically though, the times he would court a lover, spend time with them, seemingly grow bored, and allow the relationship to wither, or worse yet, punish those that loved him, burrowed under my skin more than anything else. Back to those shades of my personality I hate. And haven’t found the power to exorcise yet. Again, the specific things gnawing at my brain recently. The mirror of my behavior. It stung.
Then, the conclusion of the story arc. A gut punch. I’m teased quite regularly for my insistence on adhering to rules. Whether necessary or not. For having a rigid sense of what needs be done. Perhaps to my detriment at times, others just amusing… like following the queue lines when no one is there rather than just walking around them to the register. It’s quirky, but harmless. But on a deeper level there is a resistance to change, an adherence to order. I’m sure I could write a thesis on the myriad underlying causes from my childhood, genetics, whatever. But the desire for order. Rules. Habits. It runs deep. And it causes conflict.
So I find myself, after a year of reading, struggling with a relationship, watching it unravel largely as a result of my actions, regretting those actions, seeing my underlying behavior mirrored in a comic book that I started reading because of the relationship, reading as the character faces a final conflict. One in which he must choose between change or death. And he’s so unwilling to change, to break his commitment to rules, that he chooses death.
Change is inevitable. It can be read as a simple truth, cliché, whatever. And though I’ve not faced a decision as stark as change or die, I’ve repeatedly faced the decision of change or let something else die. And I’ve refused to change. I can look back over the years and find times and situations when that was the right decision. But I can also look back on so many instances where I regret those choices.
And I face a sentiment that struck me recently. I know nothing.
That may sounds like negative thing to say, a self-deprecating cut. But that would be misreading the intent of it. I put things together in my mind like puzzles. I like to find systems. Patterns. It’s what I do daily when I design things. I’m good at that. I’m also intelligent. Perhaps to a fault, and I get trapped at times believing that I know more than I do, beginning to categorize things, and frame the world through a perceived understanding. And I’m resistant to changing that framework. It allows me to fall into a trap of rules and reinforced habits that make it difficult to relate, and often create an internal conflict when things don’t square.
Case in point. I’ve always thought I was rational. Logical. Pragmatic. Truth be told, I am far more emotionally driven than I’ve ever wanted to admit. Just one of many self truths that were not evident in my blind spot.
I know nothing. It’s a liberating thought, one to encourage opening myself up. I hope that it will help open me up to others as well.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a recovery graduation ceremony. The program is very religious, in the same vein as my teenage years. It was hard for me to sit through the worship service without picking apart the sociology of what was going on, or dissect what I perceive to be the pretzel logic of christianity. But I could not dismiss the power of the statements the graduates made. The struggles they’ve lived through, and the accomplishments. Who am I to disagree with the system if it’s helped them out of a darkness I can only imagine in most of their cases. I might no longer believe in that theology, but beyond myself I know nothing.
I’m sure there are people have no idea how to relate to running a marathon, or running in general, but many have listened patiently and openly when I’ve described the role running has had in my life. Is it so much to ask of myself when others relate these things to be a bit more open. To admit I know nothing of their experience, whether it’s a 12 step program or Tarot. I need to listen to people with a little more compassion and a little less disdain.
After all, I know nothing.
Father’s Day 2017. Scene: Facebook:
What time do the first bands go on at City Stages?
Oh wait, nevermind. I meant Happy Father’s Day to all the daddies out there!
I chuckled, and cringed. I considered responding with a joke about trigger warnings. It’s a great Birmingham joke, sarcastic, nostalgic, all those lovely things. I miss City Stages. I don’t miss my father’s passive aggressive griping about the timing.
City Stages was a perennial culprit. Other times mission trips (when I participated in such thing––I’m sure the people of Colorado Springs really needed me to bring them the Jesus). Regardless, it was always met with a, “They’d never plan X, Y, or Z on Mother’s Day.” I’m sure empirical evidence might suggest otherwise, but there was no point engaging in the conversation. After all, for the first man in the state of Alabama to gain full custody of a child and receive child support, the world was against him and his standing as a father.
I’m not one to observe Hallmark holidays, or really holidays in general. My mom and I have quite the understanding about Mother’s Day. She doesn’t want a one day a year celebration. Instead, we talk regularly, neither of us burdened to maintain things. We split the who should call duties rather evenly. But Father’s Day. It always sucked. And you’d think if it sucked then, maybe it’d suck less after he’s been dead for six years. It’s worse.
The day brings back a lot of those conflicts, all of his put upon grievances. But it’s also the pinnacle of social media perfect life syndrome. Every happy post of smiling fathers and sons another little stab. Yours is dead and gone, and even when he was around, well, this day sucked too. I wanted to yell and scream at every one of the posts, lashing out. Instead, I reposted the above image as a silent acknowledgement of the day. And a reminder of the work and progress I’ve made in dealing with my father. His continued presence through his physical absence.
I know that anger wasn’t directed at my friends and acquaintances. I don’t begrudge them the relationships they have with their fathers, and I sincerely hope no one has to deal with the shit I dealt with, even as I know many have dealt with far worse. I’m angry at him, still, for his unfinished life. The way he seemed to cave in towards the end. The death spiral of fentanyl with a Michelob Ultra chaser. The whole six-pack.
And then the anger or frustration with myself. Listening to the slurred, delusional speech as he slipped in and out of consciousness on the phone. The state most of our conversations endured the last year or two of his life. The paranoia. The clear signs of opioid abuse and addiction. Clear, at least, in hindsight. There is no proof that my father died of an overdose per se, there was no autopsy. As the medical examiner responded to my inquiry, it’s just not standard practice with someone who had my father’s medical history. A half-dozen chronic conditions were in competition for the right to be named primary cause after all. Not to mention the 30 years plus of hard living and substance abuse. But it remains the case that I never pushed him on the medication. After all, he complained about it all the time, wanted to talk to his doctor to try to get off the dozen or more medications he took daily. Considering his long history of drug use, it didn’t seem odd or all that dangerous to consume in the way he did. It was easy to turn it over to him. He was a grown man after all, my being the “adult” in the relationship since childhood notwithstanding.