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Monday, February 15, 2016

Future Perfect

I’ve become somewhat of a snob, grammatically.

It stems from my time teaching SAT preparation courses. Little things like “then” versus “than” and misuse of homophones can push me over the edge. Let’s not even get into the incorrect usage of apostrophes.

It’s = it is.They’re = they are. Every time. Not possessive. Sigh.

Knowing my quickness to judge others in this respect, I try to hold myself to the same standard. I feel downright humiliated when I find a typo in a blog post, and I’ve deleted whole Facebook threads when I discovered an early misspelling. In conversation, I’ve been known to swear audibly upon realization that I said “further” when I meant “farther.”

The one place this has not really extended, however, has been verb tenses. Sure, I try to use the correct tense most of the time, but outside of the big three (past, present and future), I don’t know any of their names or any of their specific definitions. I know what “sounds right,” and I tend to go with that.

Such looseness with the rules has led me to statements like the one that got me out the door yesterday morning:

I don’t want to run, but when I’m done, I will have wanted to.

If the preposition at the end of that sentence wasn’t enough to hurt my brain, the general construction does the job. Still, it’s the most accurate representation I can determine for how I feel while running. I don’t always love running, but I always love finishing a run.

Many people have challenged me over the years, telling me that it’s impossible to like running. In general, I disagree with the sentiment, but I can understand its origin. If someone has never run before, it takes a while for the body to acclimate. Muscles will be sore and minds will be tired, and that state can last a very long time. Eventually, you begin to see changes, whether physical or just based on your performance. Consistent behavior leads to definitive progress. Yes, the reward can be long time coming, but I believe the time it takes only increases its value.

Years removed from this personal revelation, it can be very difficult for me to remember what that accomplishment feels like. My goal of fifty marathons is a large, distant abstract at this point. I need to make incremental progress to have any chance of achieving that goal, but the increments don’t necessarily provide enough satisfaction to drive me on. Short version: some days I don’t want to run.

Particularly on long run days, it is very easy to forget the distant goal and think only of the instant reward. Yesterday, it was the thought of how nice it would be to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and spend the whole morning in pajamas.

Yet I knew deep down, and my wife reminded me, that curling up was not really what I wanted, and out the door I went. As I neared the end of my two hour run, I broke into a huge, stupid smile. This feeling was what I really wanted. I needed the miles, the sweat, the pain of building something stronger. It’s hard to reconcile when I’m comfortable on the couch and (as was the case this morning) hard to remember when I’m staring at an alarm I barely remember turning off. But it’s what I really want.

Or will have wanted after.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Running Lines

I wish I were a multi-tasker.

Particularly for the last month, I've tried to fill my days with pastimes that I'm proud to talk about. Reading, writing and running are the chief goals, but there are plenty of others, such as music and theatre. In short, I have a lot of commitments, and there are times when it would serve me best to be able to accomplish multiple things at once.

So I try to multi-task A and B. The problem is, it's not that I can do thing A and thing B at the same time. It's that thing B is shiny and distracting, and thing A goes undone.

In general, I'm better served by buckling down on A and telling myself that B will wait until I'm done. Certainly, I'm not always good at doing that. The most common example is when I'm sitting at my desk, working on a project, with another eye on my email inbox. I pride myself at getting back to folks quickly, but when the email comes in, I cut off whatever I'm working on and change over my attention. Sometimes it's hours before I see the open window on my screen and think, "What was I doing in that program?"

I don't think I'm the only person who works like this. Every day, I hear from someone who "doesn't have time" to do this or that, wishing that there could be more hours in every day to get things done. Often, one of the first things to get sacrificed will be a workout.

Recently, I've realized that running is the one place where I can truly multi-task. Sure, I can't return emails or read a book (I have no idea how those people at the gym can read on treadmills), but there are a lot of parts of my life that can happen while I'm pounding the pavement, because a lot of my life happens quietly in my brain.

This morning, for example, after another battle with my sleep-fogged brain, I managed to make it out the door for my run. As usual, my mind started wandering pretty quickly, and I explored all the dark places of my doubt before finding a way to be proud of the fact that I'd actually made it out the door. At some point, I turned to my schedule for the day, remembering that there is a performance of the play I'm in tonight. My train of thought took it from there:

I'm kind of glad I'm not onstage tonight, after a bit of a break, it'll be nice to see it again - wait, when am I on next - right, Saturday, we don't have a show tomorrow - I should spend tomorrow going over my lines - hang on a minute... I've got time right now!

I began to run the play, beginning to end, in my mind on the road. It's surprisingly difficult to keep focused, especially as my mind wanders off into the comedic bits and improv that will happen throughout Saturday evening, but I ended up getting through about 90% of the lines I'll have to speak on the night. I'd accomplished two things at once, and perhaps even better, I hadn't even noticed the last two miles of the run.

Whether I'm working on a new song, prewriting one of these blog posts, or trying to remember whether it's "your" or "thy" in a particular scene, a lot of the effort of my day is cerebral. Tying that to my physical workout is proving to find me a little extra time throughout the rest of the day.

And then I can single-task to my heart's content.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


It doesn't take much to upset a delicate balance.

Now, delicate is not a word that I'd use to describe our boy dog. Floppy. That word is much more appropriate. Generally, he's pretty dumb and happy, and we like having him around. And in truth, even though we got him as a puppy, he's never been particularly destructive.

Of course, he does love peanut butter. And if the spatula head happens to be stuck to the peanut butter, well, he'll go ahead and take that down as well.

This lead to the wonderful adventure of puppy stomach surgery. Oddly enough, he had a very similar surgery to the one that I had almost exactly a year ago. They fortunately did not have to do anything on the same scale as they did with me, but he's stitched up with staples and drooling in his pain med sleep as we speak.

It's shocking normal activities suddenly become terrifying. The way he stretches his body is a concern for the staples. Whether or not he can reach his scar determines the necessity of a cone. Every outside trip is watched and mentally documented. He can't tell us if something is wrong, so it's up to us to determine for ourselves. The responsibility is heavy, and the worry can take your focus away in a heartbeat. The puppy body is off, and there goes all the balance in the world, it seems.

Certainly an overstatement, but it shocks me how fragile these little ecosystems can be. Four days of late nights and celebrations last week completely derailed me from a lot of the grounding efforts that I developed in January. I was finally able to get up and go for a run at my proper (read: early) time yesterday, only to choose, rather definitively, to stay in bed today. Besides that, schedules over which I have no control keep morphing without warning, our office is undergoing a slow, steady thump of construction, and the little stressors keep mounting, more and more, each day.

Most of these irritations are minor. On a normal day (or to a normal person) they might completely bounce off, but pile them on and they're suddenly some multi-Transformer machine of misery. Today, my last straw came when I wasn't sure if I could get my run in after work (which I totally dropped this morning in favor of laziness), having allowed a lot of steam to build. I reminded myself of those Snickers commercials where someone is behaving horrendously to those around them. Luckily for me (and I suppose for the Snickers folks) the answer is not far away. I ran.

In my case, things can be put back together almost as quickly as they fall apart. All it takes is a few good choices. Had I made the right choice this morning, it would not have been a problem at all. The difference is that a quick fix does not necessarily mean an easy fix. It is not easy to leave the house before the sun comes up, but it does solve a whole lot of other problems in my day before I even have to face them. And it may not be perfect, but it certainly beats trying to piece my life back together with little bits of chewing gum.

Or surgical staples.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Groundhog Day

"That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I have that day over and over and over?"

-Bill Murray, Groundhog Day

Some brilliant soul on the internet recently suggested that the studio announce a sequel to Bill Murray's 1993 (I'm gonna say it) masterpiece.

Then they should just re-release the original movie.

I love that film, and can probably quote a good 70-80% of it from memory. It's one of those that I'll watch over and over again, seemingly appropriate given the plot. For me, it was always a story about what you could do with unlimited do-overs. Who hasn't wanted a chance to fix every mistake in a day? To absolutely get it perfect?

Of course, that's only the second half of the movie. The first half is getting everything wrong.

Today, I had a first half kind of day. Nothing big, nothing terrible, just lots of little things that added up to a huge pile of crud. In particular, there were several things that could have gone well, but ended up taking the wrong turn. Just a bad day. They happen.

Flipping through the channels this evening, I came across the movie being shown again and again on some cable channel. I watched for a few minutes, but wasn't much in the mood for silly comedy. I turned off the TV and returned to my current book, The Odyssey. Talk about a bad day.

My mind wandered, as it often does, and I thought about whether I'd be willing to live this day over and over again to try and get it right. I started to think back about what I would change.

And here's the thing: I got nothing.

I woke up on time. I went for my run. I took some time to cook breakfast and read in the morning, and was at work on time. Then, I worked hard, and answered some important questions at my job. I maintained focus better than usual, and got done with everything I needed. All the frustrations were from outside sources, and all were dealt with. In each case, if my immediate reaction was not constructive, I didn't give it out to someone else. I took my step back and reassessed, and everything that could be dealt with was. Everything that can't be fixed yet can wait.

And that's the best part about bad days. They end. Control what can be controlled now, and the uncontrollable takes less out of you. Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow today, which I guess is meant to give us hope for an early spring. I'm not quite sure about that.

But I do know that tomorrow won't be today.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Checking In

As advertised, I've been a bit busy the last couple weeks.

I began rehearsing a new play on January 21, the same night that I learned I'd be performing an additional role. I performed in that role 9 days and 5 rehearsals later. This was all while continuing to do my daily yoga, my 5 weekly runs, my day job, and all the other engagements in which I've found myself so far this year. To be honest, it's been a bit much.

Janu-water ended a few days early, which had more to do with my own lack of resolve than any outside force. Still, I did 25 of the 30 days, which isn't a bad percentage at all, and I certainly had a healthier month than normal.

Plus, I did all 30 days of yoga, a fact that I'm far more proud of than perhaps I should be. The final day was free-form, and I tried to keep up with what she was doing in the video, but honestly, it wasn't a great practice for me. Still, the important thing was that I got out my mat and I did the work. Totally counts.

At the end of a month like this, I have to ask what I've learned and what can I gain from the experience. This last weekend was a very good example for me of how quickly I can drop back into old habits. I stayed out very late on Saturday night to celebrate my first show, which I really enjoyed. The trouble was, I then did not get up and do my run on Sunday, and had no interest in doing so again this morning. Suddenly, I'm two runs down on the week one day out from my crazy healthy month. It doesn't take much to start the slide.

So, I guess what I learned is that it never gets easy to make these choices. I'll always have days when I don't want to run. Water is never going to be my favorite beverage. And it is unlikely that I'll suddenly be flexible any time soon. It takes work, and for me in particular, this will be difficult a lot of the time.

But I also learned that I'm strong enough to do it. When I try, when I focus, when I want it, I can do anything. I just need to keep myself in check and remain accountable to my goals. The fact that I'm "allowed" to drink whatever I want shouldn't mean that I never choose water. I'm not required to do yoga, but I can still decide to when the mood strikes, and I don't necessarily need someone to talk me through it. I know what it feels like to have pride in the things I do every day. It all comes down to making the right choices most of the time.

And celebrating every now and then.