“You’re having a dispute with your neighbour," he hypothesised. "How would you feel if your neighbour went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?”—
I’m on a deadline. Serious deadline. Tons of work. Due at 12:30.
So, naturally, I’m bursting with enthusiasm to gush about how much I love my kids, Julie, the dog, the Internet, democracy, clementines, oatmeal, whatever. You might think I’d be highly motivated to complete my work, but now you see where thinking gets you.
I meant it when I said my task-management system consisted of a stack of post-its and frequent reminders that I am required to accomplish work tasks in order to live. It’s the only thing that works for me. And just barely, as you can see.
“gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom, blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room, Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece, jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash”—everybody, apparently
I believe the sun is going to rise again tomorrow. I believe that if I stick my hand in boiling water, I’ll burn my hand. I believe it’s okay to leave butter out on the counter for weeks, but that orange juice needs to be kept refrigerated. I believe I should wash chicken before cooking it, but I am perfectly comfortable slapping a steak on the grill straight out of the butcher paper. I believe filtered water is safer to drink than unfiltered water. I believe it is bad parenting to let my kids make “your mom” jokes to adults. I believe in the possibility of the eternal, but that everything I am capable of knowing is temporary. I believe that beliefs are more than convenient - that they are necessary - but that they should be consciously held and periodically re-examined. And in this regard, at least, I believe I’m not especially good at practicing what I preach.
Beliefs promise a wholly seductive kind of predictability: a felt sense that it’s possible to grok how life works, how things will probably go. Right up until they’re wrong.
For most of my life, I’ve believed that middle age would usher in a long period of steady physical decline for me. That’s turned out not to be so true. Until this past July, I believed I would never run again - that I was somehow not cut out for it. The past four months have shown that to have been untrue also. And until today, I believed that, even though it looks like I’m going to be able to run for exercise for quite some time, I’d never be as good at it as I was during high school. But this morning, I decided to find the fastest pace I thought I could sustain for a mile and time myself. The result: I ran a mile in 7:24, then followed it with another mile of intervals. Now, I don’t think I ever broke 6:00 in high school, but I remember that my typical splits in two-mile races were between 6:45 and 7:30. Which means that, as of this morning, I might be within spitting distance of reclaiming this little sliver of youthful vigor to which I had long since bid a permanent farewell.
I’m floored by the possibility that I could not only become as capable at this as I was at age 15, but that I could quite reasonably expect to become better. Like, totally bedazzled by the possibility. Like, almost incredulous, because there goes another belief, expired, just like that.
Beliefs are weird.
And I’ll be damned if I’m not going to break seven minutes by Thanksgiving.
May 01, 2013: 178 Aug 10, 2013: 176 Sep 23, 2013: 173 Oct 18, 2013: 170 Oct 31, 2013: 166
Although I am delighted by this trend, it’s getting a little ridiculous with the pants. And while belts are nice for keeping me away from an Indecent Exposure charge, they don’t do much to fight the look in my butt like there’s enough spare room to stash a couple of diapers for later.
Anyway, let me know if you need me to smuggle some diapers in my pants.
He told me that, although my femoral neck is indeed thickened, and although I have a generous helping of bursitis and tendonitis in both my left hip and left heel, and although I am indeed 41 years old and have little hope at this point of getting younger, he did not see any signs of stress-fracture anywhere and he cleared me to resume running – which I did, and am now paying for having done with super sore muscles and a gangsta limp, but you know how excited I was to hear I’m not going to land myself in a wheelchair if I try to get a little exercise. So instead of complaining about the soreness, I’m walking around the office this morning massaging my butt and issuing ecstatic moans, to the apparent delight and/or horror of my perfectly innocent coworkers.
What the Tea Party represents, in stark contrast to conservatism, is a radical attack on the very framework of our governing system. It is not right or left within our democratic system. It is a form of secession from it and a de facto abandonment of the notion of one country under one rule of law. It is about sabotage rather than opposition. It is bad enough when one party will seek to sabotage the law of the land – by attempting to rally the public to spurn the new healthcare law, in the hopes of causing it to collapse. But when the dominant faction of one party is bent on sabotaging our democracy, it must not simply be tolerated or appeased the way John Boehner shamefully did. It must be defeated. Anything less is a form of appeasement of forces and ideas that are truly antithetical to the democratic way of life and to constitutional governance.
Yes, in my view, the situation is that grim. If the Republican right’s fanaticism still blinds them to the error of their ways after they nearly destroyed the global economy (and brutally damaged the American one), it becomes clear that only a total collapse of the American government and economy could truly teach them the futility of their deluded aspirations. The rest of us cannot and must not tolerate that. We must draw a line. That line, for those who still believe in the regular order of our democracy, is November 2014.
1986-1990 I ran cross-country when I was a high-school kid. Our races were 2 miles or so. Distance running ain’t what it used to be.
1990-1992 When I went to college, I stopped running. Whenever I tried to pick it up again, it hurt. Not like discomfort, but real pain. Pain in my back, pain in my legs, pain in my chest.
1992-1999 I concluded running was too “high-impact” and took up cycling to stay fit. Cycling was lower-impact, but not injury-free. I messed up a ligament in my left knee pretty good because my clipless pedals had me riding pigeon-toed. That slowed me to the point where cycling wasn’t fun for me anymore and, eventually, I stopped. That was 1999. I can count on two hands the number of bike-rides I’ve taken since then.
1999-2013 I have intermittently gone to gyms since then, using everything from stationary bikes to free-weights to stay in shape. At my best, I was stronger than I had been in high school and weighed 155 pounds. But my cardiovascular health wasn’t great because I was mostly doing anaerobic exercise. That peak was in January of 2007. By January of 2013, I weighed 185 pounds and felt like hell, and this summer, I finally got serious about doing something about it.
2013 Sizing up my situation, I didn’t want to do the gym thing. Gyms are inconvenient and time-consuming, and I wanted to remove as many obstacles to actually forming a habit as I could. Even though running and I have long been enemies, I decided I needed to make peace with running unless I wanted to die of a heart attack way younger than I should.
July 2013 So I started running in late July. Worked up from a quarter-mile to a mile within a couple of weeks. It was all on a track, with old, worn-out shoes. I suffered sore muscles and the pain of expanding my lung capacity. Feels good, and ouch, respectively.
August 2013 In late August, I ended up running a couple of miles every other day, on a mix of asphalt roads and trails in Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine. New shoes. No pain to speak of.
September 2013 By September, I was averaging 7-10 miles per week, spread over the course of 3-4 runs. I ran five miles one day, and felt great. But I was back on pavement after returning from Maine. Tendon pain in my left groin, then bursitis-like pain in my left hip. The pain was intermittent, and increased over time.
October 2013 At the beginning of October, I went to see my doctor about the hip pain, and got an x-ray to rule out stress fracture in the hip. She put me on an NSAID diet and told me to wait to hear back about the x-ray before running again. Three days later, her office called to tell me there were no fractures and I was clear to resume running. So I did. That week, I developed a sharp pain in the back of my left heel. I tried running more gently, but the heel-pain just continued. And my hip pain was resurgent. My doctor had said that if the hip pain didn’t diminish on the NSAID alone, I should cease running for a week or two, then return to it slowly. So this past Monday morning, after a moderately painful 2.25-mile run, I decided to heed her advice and take a week (maybe more) off.
Today This morning (Thursday), I had my annual physical and a follow-up visit with my doctor. Further examination of the x-ray had revealed thickening around the neck of my left femur, she said, which puts me at significant risk of fracture. She said she was going to talk to an orthopedic specialist regarding whether or not I should stop running altogether, and she suggested that I see a sports medicine specialist either way.
Two hours later, I got a call. It was my doctor again. She had reviewed the x-ray with the orthopedist and wanted me to schedule an appointment with him sooner rather than later. He would probably want to take an MRI, she said, to get a closer look. It was too hard to tell if there might be some fracturing already happening. Absolutely no running until I see him, she said.
I feel crushed.
Not only have I made peace with running, I’ve come to love it. As in, depend on it. It’s allowed me to cut my caffeine intake, it’s had an anti-depressant effect, it’s improved my attention span, I’ve slept better and drank less alcohol, and I’m down to 170 pounds. I don’t know how soon I’ll be able to get in to see this specialist, and midway through the book Born To Run, I feel suspicious in advance of any advice he could give. But breaking my hip would be awful, so I feel like I have to put caution first here and go obediently through this dreadful process.
So here I am, at 41 years old, wishing like an idiot that I’d made a concerted effort to stay in shape all those years I let slide, and fighting off dire visions of a sedentary life of decline to come.
It was January in Vermont and there were boxes everywhere.
Piles of empty boxes by the door. Next to them: permanent markers, paper, and tape. On the kitchenette countertop: empty boxes. In the bathtub: empty boxes. Potential vessels all.
Stacks of boxes on the ground. Packed neatly with cassette tapes, each box labeled with a name scrawled in Sharpie on a sheet of paper taped to the box. On filing cabinets, on tabletops, cleared desks, credenzas, and chairs: stations and stacks of boxes.
Armfuls of boxes, born empty but slowly filled by their owner as they make their way, contemplative and remembering, from station to station.
The relative quiet of the room was punctuated only by a sporadic call-and-response, wherein a box-toter would call out, “I need a Georgiana Peacher,” or, “Have you seen Walter Butts?” or, “Where’s Ellen Hersh?” and either a fellow box-toter or one of the two older ladies in charge would answer, handily guiding them to their treasure. I sat with my sketchbook on a tiny, sunny island of exposed carpet near a window while my mom made her way around the stations, searching for tapes and crossing lines off a list as she found them.
The night before, the 1995 graduates of Vermont College’s Creative Writing MFA program had given their final readings. Before a small-but-enthusiastic audience of friends, family, faculty, and fellow MFA candidates, they had ascended the stage, one after another, and read aloud the most workshopped poems of their lives. Afterward, there were dinners and happy hours, yes, while a small army of program staff edited and duplicated cassette recordings of each reading, merchandising them in boxes on the third floor of an ancient victorian house in the part of Montpelier you might call “downtown” even if you were from a city and knew better, so that people could purchase them in case, you know, they were starting a collection. I had come from Chicago, where I was in art school, to hear my mom read and celebrate her graduation.
Now, there are two things you should know about my mom.
The first is that she’s bookish, by which I mean that my earliest images of her include the sense that she used to bump into walls because she was trying to read a book while walking around the house. It’s not like she has the scars to validate this image, but it’s also not like I pulled it out of my childhood ass. So trust me when I tell you the woman makes the common expression, “life of the mind,” seem trite and weak.
The second thing you should know about my mom is that she missed her calling to be a nun. Barely. We like to think of our mothers as paragons of virtue – we may even have a real psychological need to uphold our moms in this way – but mine is the real deal. To this day, I’ve never heard her use the f-word. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard her swear at all, except to say “damn,” which you can say on TV so that doesn’t even count as a swearword. She is modest, proper, perfectly mannered, gentle, kind, thoughtful, smart, and always sincere. Her soft, steady presence asserts a benevolent order onto everything around her, like mist hushing the forest floor at sunrise.
Other members of her cohort had come to know these things about my mom, even through low-residency exposure, and the tone of the morning in the box room reflected her harmonious energy.
"Who’s seen Linda Pennisi?" another woman asked.
"Right here next to Georgiana" my mom replied, fetching her colleague a copy.
I looked up and back down at my sketchbook, half listening to the ritual in the room, half drawing the light and shadow falling on the boxes and carpet around me.
"What about Anne Youngs?" a younger woman asked, and a man responded.
"Thanks, Brad," the woman replied.
Drawing, I try just to focus on edges, where light and dark meet.
"Is Mark’s Cock in my box?" sung my mother to the the most suddenly rapt audience either of us had ever known, and there was a very pregnant pause.
Everyone looked up at my mother and froze, and, in that longest moment, the frozen people all wore perfect O’s on their faces. More blow-up dolls than master poets, their eyes uniformly fixed on one Kay Cavanaugh Barnes, who, unaware of what she had just said, continued sifting through a stack of tapes, waiting for a response that didn’t come.
Noticing the silence, she stopped and looked up. She furrowed her brow in bemusement as her gaze met theirs, and, all at once, I could see the recognition wash over her.
"Oh no! Oh my!" she said. "I meant Mark Cox! What did I say? Oh my gosh! How embarrassing!"
The room relaxed into reassurance and laughter. These were her people, and they understood. My red-faced mother completed her tape collection, paid the ladies in charge, and whisked us away to lunch and the restoration of normalcy, to an unspoken treaty we both knew we needed, to a life of never daring to speak that man’s name aloud again.
Chewing food is like phoning down to your stomach and announcing that there’s a stream of guests headed that way for a huge party. Your stomach has enough time to tidy up the place and put on some music. “What a great party,” everyone will say.
If you don’t chew your food, though – if you drink smoothies or vegetable juice or protein shakes – well that’s like shooting the party guests out of a great big firehose through the front door. They bust down the door and take over the house, and your stomach doesn’t even have time to wake up from its nap – let alone prepare for guests. So what you end up with is a miserable party where everyone overstays their welcome and trashes the house. Everyone will say, “I feel unfulfilled,” and they’ll blame your crummy party, and I don’t think any of us want that.
The moral of the story is this: If you’re going to just stop by a friend’s house unannounced for an impromptu dinner party, bring more than Bloody Mary mix, you jerk.
“If you don’t fall for something, you’ll stand for anything.”—Stupid me on Twitter, in the most startlingly inadvertent admission of something I apparently believe while I thought I was just being ridiculous ever.
Just submitted an update to Tumblr. Here are the highlights:
I removed the full-width photos feature because it was causing more problems than it was solving for basically everyone who was using it. From now on, The Pragmatist will, by default and without the ability to override, honor the source dimensions of all photos you post.
You can now add header images separate from the body background image. They work the same way as body background images (they are background images in the CSS, if you know what I mean). You can control whether or not the image tiles, and you can control whether it’s locked or scrolls with the page. Enjoy.
The Pragmatist now supports Typekit. It’s really easy. You just provide your Typekit ID and use the Custom CSS field (in Customize > Advanced) to override the default theme styles. You have to know a tiny bit about what you’re doing to use this, but anyone who knows how to use Typekit will have no trouble figuring this one out. NB: If you don’t know how to use Typekit or write CSS, I do not recommend using this feature. Trying won’t break the theme, but it will cause you frustration.
Keep your eyes peeled for the changes to become available in your theme sometime in the next couple of days and, as always, let me know if you see any Gremlins. And one more thing. Thanks again for using this sucker.