This morning I got up way too early and pounded the pavement. It was the longest run in the last few years. I make myself do it three times a week at the least. The guilt is overwhelming if I can’t carve some time to go running that often. The sad thing is I feel guilty even when I do hit the self prescribed minimum. Despite forcing myself from the comfort of bed when it’s still dark, injecting relentless tunes into my skull and working up to a decent pace around a conveniently close-to-home loop, I feel guilty that I’m not doing more. My knees crack and my hips pop. I’m wearing through another pair of shoes. Still, there’s a nagging feeling that I’m not doing enough.
This machine is relentless.
I chug on and on, huffing and puffing away for no discernible reason other than my own unending drive for more. More what? Punishment? I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m not training for a marathon. I’m not training for the military. It’s as though there’s some invisible meter in my body that builds up energy over time and I feel this urge to discharge it. When I finish, gasping as I punch in the code to raise the garage door, it feels like a pressure valve has been opened over the previous hour. It vents anxiety and frustration. I can feel the pressures of life easing as I run laps around the mile and a half loop in my neighborhood.
This machine is working for me.
The pressures on my mind ease as the wear and tear increases on my body. It’s a tipping of scales. I used to take the amazing mechanics of my body for granted. I’d sit on the couch doing nothing, gorging on poison without a second thought. The tide turned a few years ago and now I’m bound and determined to run this thing right into the ground. I realized soon after the practice became habit that there was an energy exchange occurring. The higher the mental energy, the more I could burn while running. Stressed? Overwhelmed? Hard day? Give me an hour and my shoes and it’s gone. It takes the starch out. It bleeds the poison from my mind as I wear out the joints and beams. It was made over the course of thousands and thousands of years of evolution and is the most elegant, efficient system we could have. I’m already wearing it out.
This machine won’t last forever.
I’m already having to hack the system. I’m using a brace on one knee, and I can feel the other starting to creak. Special foods and recipes designed to make the most of the fuel burning process. Doing all the necessary stretches. Utilizing BPM tracking on music to push me. Running in loops around my home in case my bad knee suddenly locks up on me, out of the blue. My better half tries to find opportunities to talk me out of wearing myself down, finding reasons to sneak me a cookie or experiment with homemade ice cream. Telling me to sleep in, to take days off. She knows I’m running the machine too hard, too often. I hope she doesn’t worry, but that probably won’t stop me.
I’m going to run this whole contraption right into the ground. Sooner or later, something will give. A ligament tearing. Heatstroke in the summer. Slipping on the ice in winter. Dodging distracted drivers at intersections. Maybe I’ll trip over one of the countless startled rabbits that don’t expect me at that ungodly hour. Back pains. Bad knees. I can’t run forever. As long as the machine works, though, I’m not stopping
No, not anything political. Like me, I’m sure you are sick to death of anything even tangentially related to the election.
Since I’ve moved into my new home with my better half we’ve both noticed a strange thing happening in our minds. We drive home from where ever we have been, almost always taking the same way. The other option is less traveled but no less familiar. This more frequent route sees us taking a stretch of highway unworthy of note. It is a number and that is all. There is nothing remarkable beyond it. There are no major cities beyond our exit, no developing suburbs. We come to our exit, take the off ramp and turn down our street into our neighborhood, never looking over the horizon at what is beyond. My better half hit the nail on the head when she explained it to me as “like the edge of a map in a video game.”
What lies past that last exit?
Seemingly, nothing. Not in the sense of goon docks and tall grass. I mean in the sense that we have no preconception of where that highway goes. Think about that - don’t you usually have an idea of where a road goes, even if you don’t take it? There’s a makeshift grid in your mind, an adaptive map that adjusts to where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going. Rarely do we contemplate the road less traveled.
So we’re left with a highway that stretches off into the ether - overly dramatic, sure, but my mind can’t construct what is out there. Eventually one of the Dakota’s I suppose…but what’s in the vast stretch of mid-west nothing in between? It’s just developed enough around the area to suggest small towns or the gradual emergence of another suburb, but I have no frame of reference for it.
To rectify this we did what we always do - we turned to tech.
Google Earth, duh. There it was, our highway. Stretching out over the screen, leading to a series of small burgs dotting the western half of the state. Nothing of particular note, just what you’d expect when picking a random point on a map in the flyover states. It didn’t really help, though. Maybe not enough frame of reference?
I found it to be more fun and revelatory when looking at my childhood haunts on Google Earth. Forests that bordered parks spilled out on the other side. Shortcuts were instantly justified. All the odd things about where I grew up fell into an easy to understand and digestible world of North, South, East and West. Yeah, yeah, I had maps as a kid. But never like this. Now I can zip instantly to where I remember things and twist the orientation and see things in real time. Provided the data is fresh enough and the screen is detailed enough, it’s like being there.
It’s super dorky, I know, but I love this kind of memory tinkering. This weird, video-game inspired world of mine slowly gives up its secrets with every technological development. Fewer boundaries every day. The world ends somewhere, just not where we think it does.
A coworker was sick and now I’m sick. I hit a personal best in running this week. Assuming I have to spend the next 3+ days wacked out on DayQuil/NyQuil/Vitamin C boosters. I love this machine and I hate when it fails. Here’s to feeling crumb bum for a while.
We give some people way too much power over us, don’t we?
At the end of a fantastic week I found myself stalking the produce section of a grocery store I don’t frequent. Rather, I used to haunt this one, but a closer one opened up to my better half’s office and now we go to that one. Thing is, at the end of a pretty great week I was on the hunt for a couple key ingredients for some curry we planned to make as soon as I came home. I was a bit disheveled. Nothing drastic, just a bit rumpled and more than a bit greasy after a productive day. Tie loosened, collar unbuttoned. My alleged hipster hair flopping down into my eyes like the11th Doctor. I turned the corner around the vidalia onions and there he was.
This dude I used to know.
He was a cool dude. We didn’t know each other that well, but he had been a tangential social connection in college who had done me a few favors when I needed them. We always got along just fine but there was a clear social dynamic - he was cool. He was the alpha male. I was not cool. I was the clear beta. He still possesses this unspoken confidence and carries himself very well. I still slouch and second guess every single thing I do. I don’t even know if he recognized me, but neither of us acknowledged the other.
I pretended nothing clicked in my head and went about my business, keeping an eye peeled and watching for any recognition from him. None came. When he checked out and left before me, I relaxed a bit. There was no bad blood between us, so why the anxiety? Simply because it would be awkward to reintroduce myself to someone I knew, and I guess to explain who I was? That sort of makes sense, but it doesn’t make me feel better about it. Just being surprised by him threw me off balance and the old dynamic reared into being. Years have passed since I even spoke to this dude, yet there I was, all nebbish and strange as though my years of personal growth and accomplishments vanished due to proximity.
I’ve been thinking about this weird encounter all night. It shouldn’t bother me, but it’s going to linger like a bruise, I can tell. It’s foolish. It’s not like I’d send him a text and say “Hey! How’s it going?” at this point. Waves in the ocean. I’ll cross paths with people like this again. I need to remember not to let it sway me. I like who I am. Dynamics change. Relationships grow and wither. People don’t care as much as we think they do. I’ll shrug it off.
More here: jtoycen.blogspot.com
That may sound like a broad stroke, but hear me out.
I was feeling frustrated today, after limping home from my run (knee is acting up again) and not feeling like I had accomplished much with the day. At the height of my frustration I was hunched over a tray loaded with paint, staring at the brush I continually fail to properly wash when done painting. As a distraction I was playing the latest episode of the podcast Harmontown, in which Dan Harmon (famously fired by NBC for running the thoroughly fantastic show Community in a manner they saw fit) invited two members onto stage. Dan and cohost/comptroller of Harmontown Jeff Davis talked to the two guests about why they were both feeling terrible. After chasing the varying issues around in their heads for a few minutes, Harmon and Davis realized that everyone on stage at that point was grappling with the idea that they had somehow either made the wrong choice, arrived at their current place by default or failed to act in the best manner. In a sense, they concluded, they all felt like failures and frauds.
It was incredibly affirming to hear the notion articulated.
In recent years I’ve talked with my better half and our mutual friends about a similar idea. We all feel, when sufficiently pressed to reveal it, that we are frauds or that we are somehow faking our way through the day. I read someone’s explanation (in a book I can’t seem to recall…) that they would get through the day and their head would hit the pillow and they’d think something along the lines of “I’m so glad no one found me out, today!” as though they had pulled some great con over on the world.
That is so much more common than we realize. I felt that reality sink in, in the house I bought with my wife, while painting a room in my free time. I am married. I am a home owner. I choose to work on home improvement projects in my free time. I have a strong 401(k). I was upset that I exercised so much that my knee was failing again. Despite all of these stupid, simple realities I was taking for granted, I still was feeling as though I was slacking or faking my way along. I joke about it with my wife when we come home from somewhere together or when we (guh) have to make yet another run to Home Depot on the weekend (instead of say, going to concerts or bars like when we lived in Uptown) - “Can you beleive some people think we’re adults? Why do they trust us with all this? Who said we could buy a house?”
It’s absurd, but there it is - you’re an adult. I may not have kids or gray hair or a PhD, but people trust me and think I know what I’m doing. That was what they were affirming in the podcast. You never feel like you’re making the right move. You always feel like you’re just improvising and constantly averting disaster. That’s apparently what life is. You just get older and get more responsibility and if you don’t make many mistakes you find yourself accumulating trust.
Weird how that works.
You never realize it until you step back and look at it. It makes me feel better to have other people come to that same understanding through their own logic. I know I’ve certainly told it to my better half to calm her down during a crisis. Sometimes you just need to hear it from other people.
We’re all fakers, but no one’s faking anything.
More here: jtoycen.blogspot.com
I just never get comfortable with them.
I’ve had a full head of hair my whole life. Providence providing, I’ll continue to have one for years. As grateful as I am for a full head of hair, I continue to be exacerbated by it. No matter how I get it cut, or how often, it continues to grow and demands attention. I just want something that stays. As in “You - stay. Don’t move. Don’t go anywhere. No funny business.” Instead, I find myself constantly in damage-control. I have to react and adapt and ugh I just don’t wanna. Look, the deal is this - I’ve never really had a haircut I’ve liked. It’s always been just finding one that works for the time and going for it. Every single time I go in for a cut there is NO PLAN whatsoever. It’s always as if I surprise myself. “Oh, haircut? Uhhh…try…this? I don’t know…” Sure, I’ve like some more than others, but mostly they’ve always been terrible and I look back and cringe. Let’s look back at my poor choices, shall we?
Baby - doesn’t count.
Toddler - here’s where the trouble starts. Big side-swept thing that would set the stage for all future mistakes.
Childhood - epic side part that earned the moniker ‘schoolie’, a word that never looks properly spelled.
Adolescent - adopted a modified Duff. Parted down the middle and shaved(!) underneath the eaves. Gets worse.
Teen Alpha - long duff, down to shoulders. Tons of homophobic insults and ANGST. Loads of ANGST. Awful.
Teen Beta - crew cut. Copious amounts of gel and uptight micromanagement. A marked improvement.
Teen Gamma - emotional crisis results in razor-blade shearing. My head was smoooooth. Looked crazy, oddly good.
Teen Delta - no cut. grew everything out at once. Referred to by friends as a head cut.
College (Initial) - no more hair cuts, for a year. Super easy to deal with: wash, rinse, hat. Done. Awesome.
College (Variable) - series of long/buzz cuts. Blond dyes. Nothing looks right, due to exacerbating obesity.
Post College - pseudo crew. Becomes standard young man’s cut. Evolves from fauxhawk into duckbutt/Philip Fry.
Current - greaser. Better half shakes head and calls me hipster. Look like maternal grandfather. Never met him.
No matter what I do, it’s a reactionary thing. I just wish it could be like a cartoon and I could wake up every day and it would stay the same. Alas, it grows and changes and betrays me. I feel like no other guy obsesses and worries about this like do, but then they’re probably not as neurotic as me.
I can look at this two ways:
One - it’s never gonna be solved, and it’s never gonna look great. Just deal with it and constantly perform triage.
Two - lean into the spin. It’ll be a fascinating look at back at my narcissism and self-modulation in the 21st century.
Of these two grim options, I’m splitting the difference. I’m going to try to find some illusive, as-of-yet unseen haircut that will arise from trial and error and finally say “Aha! Do this the rest of my life!”
Or until I lose my hair.