Also it turns out I have drawn a lot of comics about anxiety. Hmm. This one will be filed under B808.63 L86 2018, for Philosophy (General)–Modern (1450/1600-)–Special topics and schools of philosophy–Anxiety. (If you’re just here for the philosophy, feel free to peace out here.)
As I was scanning this comic, I was wondering what I was going to write for my little essay here. The time between initially writing this and finishing it was so long that if I initially had any additional thoughts, they have now gone away. But in the meantime, it is young Hal’s birthday!
Isn’t he adorable?
Anyway, I have been trying to think of some things about having a kid that I wish I had known before he was born. Honestly, most of the things that are coming to mind are not necessarily things you can know beforehand. Like no matter how good you are at putting your baby to bed, you’ve only learned how to put your baby to bed–you can’t know ahead of time how to do it, because your baby has his own personality and likes and dislikes, and you can’t help anyone else, because all babies are pretty different. But here we go.
1. Be careful when sneezing after a c-section. I don’t know why, but although I started back to running about five weeks post-op and was fine, I pulled a muscle or something sneezing just before six weeks. That was weird. And uncomfortable. I also managed to pull a muscle in my trapezius muscle while lifting the baby, and that hurt on and off for weeks. And occasionally my wrist and thumb have been angry. So maybe I should say just be careful generally–lifting a tiny cannonball four hundred times a day turns out to do a number on you. It wasn’t until I stopped pumping that my body actually started to feel like it was totally normal again (and that lasted for a few days before I started training for a marathon, so, uh).
2. Convert distances from kilometers to miles before you sign up for a race and don’t sign up for a 10 miler eight weeks after your c-section. This goes without saying, I think. I think I did the actual signing up in early September (so two or three weeks post-op), meaning I was off any drugs…so we’ll blame this on sleep deprivation.
3. Emotional labor is for suckers. Emotional labor is the process of using your emotions in order to provoke or prevent a particular emotional response from people. And it’s just not worth it–you can’t tell someone news that will upset them in some perfect way so as not to upset them. You cannot hint at things you’d like people to do. Don’t say, “Um, do you think it’s time for the baby to take a nap?” Say, “I need to put him down for a nap now.” Don’t say, “Well, it was nice of you to come.” Say, “Get the fuck out of my house now, I’m tired.” (J/k, maybe don’t say that.)
4. You will become the expert on your baby. This is the best advice I got before Hal was born (it came from my sister-in-law and friend Claire Wahmanholm, doctor of poetry). So when you figure it out, feel free to (assertively, if need be) show the various grandparents/sitters how to put your baby down for a nap, feed him the way he likes, whatever. Do remember that over time, they will develop their own relationships with him and figure out what works for them in that context, but at the beginning they may need to be told.
5. As my mom put it, women don’t largely get to debrief after giving birth. I’m not a trauma theorist, but it doesn’t take a ton of psych to realize that when you go around talking to people about their kids and birth stories, you’ll sometimes get this sense that they are retelling their story in a way that is mean to make them feel better about whatever happened to them. Similarly, people get very insistent on the things they can control, like what they feed their infant or what kind of diapers they use, because it makes them feel better about all the millions of things they can’t control. This can lead to people saying things that sometimes come off as quite shirty about how their “thing” (exclusive breastfeeding for two years, cloth diapering, attachment parenting, whatever; not vaccinating is one of the more extreme and harmful examples of this) is so much better than whatever else. The best thing to do is not get involved.
6. The reason people fall into more sexist roles after having a baby is that the only people anyone has watched parent up close is their own parents, and thirty years ago it was a lot less typical for men to take on 50% of the parenting. If this works for you, fine. (It doesn’t work for me.) But at least be conscious about what you’re agreeing to.
7. Like most experiences, it’s hard to appreciate how amazing having a baby is until you’re not inside the experience anymore. Just smile as best you can at the old lady who corners you at the cafe. And when you see other people who are earlier in the process than you are, just reassure them that it gets better.
8. It is okay to buy some earplugs and wear them while you’re doing time holding a fussy/colicky infant. You’ll be more relaxed, and everyone will be happier because of that.
9. When in doubt, make art. Any type, doesn’t matter. It’ll make things better.
During a rather wide-ranging talk with a friend, it was suggested to me that I should try reading Finnegans Wake aloud to young Hal. Of course I tried it the next night. Much of Ulysses reads aloud very well, and I have gained a new appreciation for the Telemachiad that way. And I have heard it said that reading the Wake aloud is also a great way to catch the double meanings. But. Um.
Honestly, reading FW aloud feels a little like developing some type of aphasia. And the double meanings (I hesitate to call them puns) are, well–
Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war…
The word I’ve bolded here is extremely typical of the type of reference that’s supposed to become obvious when the text is read aloud. “Passencore” = “pas encore” = French for “not yet.” Sir Tristram had not yet returned from North Armorica. (Armorica is one of those words that makes you feel like you’re having a stroke–it’s really an ancient term for part of northern France, but I think it is used intentionally to also seem to reference North America, since later in the paragraph there are references to the city of Dublin, Georgia, USA.) Anyway. If you read the text aloud with the proper Dublin accent (not a secondhand attempt to mimic some great aunt’s County Down accent), and possibly also you knew what you were looking for, you might make sense of passencore. Or, as mentioned in the comic, “ostrygods gaggin fishygods” = Ostrogoths gagging (fighting with) Visigoths. But you’d probably have to figure that out from context as much as anything else.
I have started slowly picking my way through a few good books on the subject (A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake by Campbell because I recall my dad having a copy…and A Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake by Tindall, because it was recommended by one of the websites that came up while I was researching this). They are helpful and put things in some context–more so than, for example, this site, which aside from having been designed in approximately 2003 contains more information than can ever possibly be useful. Anyway, the short answer to the question you’re all probably asking (“What on Earth…?”) is that the book depicts a man (probably HCE? although I don’t know if there’s a good reason to assume the character inside the dream is the same as the one outside) who falls asleep and dreams the history of the Earth and its repetitions as described by Giambattista Vico in The New Science. The fall of Tim Finnegan and his revival, as depicted in a Dublin street ballad (“Finnegan’s Wake“), becomes the prototype of every fall (the fall of man, e.g.). HCE becomes the Duke of Wellington, Adam, Osiris… (Yeah, another significant influence was the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which leads to my new PhD thesis, Colonialism, Orientalism, and Intercultural Mimesis in the Works of James Joyce.) Other characters (HCE’s wife and sons) are similarly used symbolically to represent recurring figures throughout history. If you’re confused, you might want to check out The Skin of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder, which does basically the same thing except not in dream language.
One other fact I recall: Joyce spent a good portion of his life on this book. So while he was working on it, his daughter Lucia (who was fairly ill-used in many respects) was going mad. Carl Jung, who treated her, apparently observed that while both Joyce and his daughter were “submerged in the same water,” “…where [he] swims, she drowns.” So there’s that.
We’ll file this under PR6019.O9Z5 L86 2018, for English literature–1900-1960–Individual authors–J–Joyce, James, 1882-1941–Biography and criticism–General works. Also please note that this is one place where the classification falls a bit flat–this is the English literature category; there’s also an American literature category, as well as Canadian literature. During Joyce’s lifetime, Ireland went from being a colony of England to an independent country. But there’s no Irish literature category. And yet Joyce is inevitably defined as an Irish writer. (Also/however, c.f. the following quote from Ulysses.)
–I am a servant of two masters, Stephen said, an English and an Italian.
–Italian? Haines said.
A crazy queen, old and jealous. Kneel down before me.
–And a third, Stephen said, there is who wants me for odd jobs.
–Italian? Haines said again. What do you mean?
–The imperial British state, Stephen answered, his colour rising, and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church.
Haines detached from his underlip some fibres of tobacco before he spoke.
–I can quite understand that, he said calmly. An Irishman must think like that, I daresay. We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly. It seems history is to blame.
 I used to reject the idea that history was at all cyclical. Then we elected Nixon II as president. (I am sure this has something to do with Nixon becoming a somewhat funny pop-culture figure rather than an evil motherfucker in the meantime, but–first as tragedy, then as farce, right?)
 The Gaelic word they mention, “uisca beatha,” comes from the Latin word “aqua vitae” translated into Gaelic in the Middle Ages.
 The extremely genius part of this is that most people haven’t read the Wake and aren’t going to, so you can make almost any claim you want about it and people will believe it. C.F. this blog post.
Plays seen: 14 (this number includes musicals and operas)
Pounds gained / lost: +27 / -42
Miles run: 1,634.21 (because of the way I track my running, this also includes walking intentionally for exercise and elliptical use)
Total mileage since I started tracking in 2012: 13,402.92*
Yards swum: 46,500 (almost all after I was six months pregnant)
Miles biked: 0
Races started in 2017: 10
DNFs / Finishes: 1 / 9
Longest race: 10 miles (Black Hawk Ridge 16k, Oct 22, 2:02:41)
Shortest race: 5k (Freeze for Food 5k, March 4, 29:15; Berbee Derby 5k, Nov 23, 29:39)
Highest place in a race: 5th (Freeze for Food 5k)
Worst place in a race: 19 of 19 (Black Hawk Ridge 16k)**
Babies had: 1
Comics drawn and published on blog: 9 (yeah, there were others that were sketched but left unfinished for various reasons)
Concerts attended: 1 (Foo Fighters)
Quilts completed: 1.75 (still putting the finishing touches on the second one)
* Table of running:
** This is actually a bit hard to calculate–is 19/19 worse than 25/28?
Numerical Goals for 2018:
Running: 2,300 miles
Races: at least 6 (currently I have completed one and am registered for one in May), with a sub-2 half marathon in the mix. Hopefully this would be the IAT half, but that’s a pretty tough course, and I don’t think I’ve ever run it that fast, so we’ll see.
Books to read: 15
Lifting: get the deadlift to 200 lbs, squat 185 lbs (with reasonable depth I guess), bench press over 100 lbs.
Quilts: 1.25 (gotta finish the aforementioned one)
Bonus: I talked to this guy and he gave me a few of his resolutions!
Laugh more, scream less.
Grow some teeth. Not too many, maybe four or five.
Figure out some mode of personal locomotion, such as walking or crawling.
Chomsky didn’t develop this theory (properly called the “propaganda model”) alone–he co-wrote the book with Edward Herman. Wikipedia suggests that the theory was more Herman’s than Chomsky’s, but everyone seems to call it Chomsky’s theory. Here is a video that explains it in more depth than one panel of a comic can do. As a (former, I guess) southeast Asianist, I have mixed feelings about Chomsky…he seems to be generally accepted on this point, but he was so, so wrong about a number of things (specifically, the Khmer Rouge)…
Here is the main interview with Zizek that I referenced. I do enjoy the contrast between the well-dressed BBC host and the Ziz, who always looks like he has been awake for about 43 hours and hasn’t done laundry in a week.
Foucault’s stuff about the power structure and revolution was touched on in this earlier comic.
Fitzgerald has a weird face. Sorry, dude. Of all the real people I’ve tried to draw, he is the weirdest. And this is including J-P “Walleye” Sartre.
Chomsky and Foucault didn’t get along either.
Chomsky was, (possibly) surprisingly, on the side of Hillary Clinton during the last election, while Zizek wanted people to vote for Trump–not because he supported Trump; in fact, he views DT as immoral and terrible, in many ways a total disaster. But he believed that by electing DT, the left would see some galvanization and would begin to reconstruct itself, not just to offer opposition but to offer a viable alternative that did not include neoliberalism/late-stage international capitalism/what have you. Interestingly, I think he was right to some extent. I knew a few people involved in local activism while Obama was in office, but I now know many, many more people who are calling their senators and congresspeople regularly, going to rallies, and actively supporting various campaigns to change the country for the better.
As I’m writing this, however, DT has pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord.* What this will actually mean for the world in the long run is difficult to say at this juncture, since it was a largely symbolic voluntary agreement that many (well, Honduras Nicaragua [ed: damn it]) claimed didn’t go far enough. But I do think that without the governmental impetus, the solution to global warming will wind up coming from the business community–that capitalism will eventually have to save us. If the idiotic old men in power can’t see the writing on the wall, the entrepreneurs can, and in this country money speaks a lot louder than treaty obligations. Which is ironic, because I think that the revolution Zizek had in mind was not essentially the renaissance of cultural capitalism in the role of savior, but (of course) socialism (“the good old welfare state,” as he would put it). To paraphrase Oscar Wilde (or, really Ziz quoting Wilde in the video linked just there), it feels like a bad idea to use private industry to lead the mitigation of the environmental disaster caused by private industry, because their motives will always be profit-driven rather than altruistic, and that means that people not living in the first world are going to wind up getting screwed somehow. On the other hand, as someone who is worried about the environment, I guess I’ll take what I can get at this point?
Circling back to the Ziz’s point about the president as the motive for revolution: the problem is that Trump is a good enemy but ultimately inept. The left doesn’t really have to do anything–they (we) just have to stand there and he’ll turn his administration into a dumpster fire. It’s been less than six months and there’s already been talk of impeachment on the floor of the House by Republicans. Thus, while the base is fired up, the democrats in congress don’t seem to be doing much in the way of providing alternative leadership or pivoting to embrace the more liberal Sanders wing or the multicultural Obama wing–they don’t have to.
And this is where the lack of objectivity I mentioned begins to bother me–rather than seeing any individual action the administration takes as the flailing of an inept and failing regime, the leftermost voices seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on interpreting how this is going to lead to fascism/autocracy/A Handmaid’s Tale/insert your particular fear here. I suppose this is the reverse of Obama, or perhaps more accurately the flip side of it. I discussed a few posts back seeing voters in 2008–especially African American voters, since I was in a heavily African American area of Philly–reconstructing Obama in their own image so that he could serve as a vehicle onto which they could project their ideas/hopes/dreams. Now on the other side, we have the left projecting its fears onto DT–perhaps because of a lack of transparency on his part that keeps him feeling like a remote and unknowable figure, or perhaps because this is how people always deal with their leaders–just as we must imagine that we live in a community filled with others who are basically the same as we are in order to become a nation, we must imagine the same thing about the leader who we will likely never meet in person–that he or she is a specific type of person that either is like us (for those leaders we like) or totally foreign to us (for those we hate).
To provide a possible counter-point to my own point here, I’ll add that while I was sketching out this comic, I found this video on Jacques Lacan,** about whom I know very little (he is widely admired by many of the continental philosophers I mention here, especially Zizek, but not widely discussed in the [undergraduate] philosophy curriculum, possibly because he’s largely still seen as a psychologist? Or because undergrad philosophy is kinda naff in a lot of ways). Anyway, the video quotes Lacan as saying, “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. And you will get one.” Lacan meant that what people want, from the time of infancy, is basically an “ideal parent,” someone who can make everything okay, and we carry this desire into who we vote for. Whereas it is better, following Sartre’s idea of radical freedom, to accept that no leader is going to be able to do these things, and instead to embrace the fact that if we want something to happen, the best way is to make it happen ourselves. Go out and break glass ceilings, clean up the environment, make art–do what you need to in order to be awesome every day.
We’ll file this under P95.82 U6 L86 2017, for Philology. Linguistics–Communication. Mass media–Special aspects–Political aspects. Policy–By region or country, A-Z. This allows it to sit next to the original being referenced, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media, at least at my alma mater.
* When I say “pulled out,” it’s not clear how Bloomberg / the individual states and cities saying they’re still going ahead with the Paris Accord requirements plays into this argument. Bloomberg is of course a total centerist neoliberal (and so on and so on).
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, by Jack Thorne, based on a story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Alan Mendalsohn: The Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater
Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett
Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett
The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
It got a little escapist there at the end. I should note that this list is somewhat incomplete–it doesn’t contain, for example, several nonfiction reference books I read, nor the three times I re-read HST’s obituary of Richard Nixon.
Best book I read: Probably The System of the World, which is itself the third part of a trilogy. Is it 2,400 pages of fanfiction about Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, and the invention of the calculus? A treatise on globalization and economics? An in-depth look at the difficult political transition between Queen Anne and King George I? A joyful romp around the world with the Royal Society? All of the above? Totally worth reading, whatever it is. Someday I want to meet Neal Stephenson so I can give him a high five.
The 2017 reading list can be found here, and my theater reviews are here.
New Years Day Dash
Freeze for Food 5k / 10k
5 km / 10 km
26:57 / 49:14
Ice Age 50 half marathon
Blue Mounds 18k
Dances with Dirt
Madison Mini Marathon
Safe Harbor Labor Day Dash
North Face Endurance Challenge
Indian Lake Trail Race
McCarthy Park Trail Race
Wolf Pack Trail race
Best finish (in terms of pace): Freeze for Food 10k (7:56 pace); New Years Day Dash (7:58 pace); Fall 15k (8:32 pace)
Best finish (in terms of place): Wolf Pack (2nd woman [of two], 8th overall); Fall 15k (3rd in age group, 4th woman of 27); Freeze for Food 5k/10k (6th in age group in both).
I ran 29ish miles on Saturday at the Wolf Pack Trail Run. 29.28 according to my watch. When I signed up, I thought the race would be 28 miles–it was billed as two 14-mile loops, but there was some overlap between the loops and some extra so it worked out weird. It took about five and a half hours. I was the eighth finisher overall out of fourteen. I was also the second woman finisher…out of two. There were several other women who started the race but dropped out (at least three, possibly more). So really, I was one of only two female finishers. That’s not bad, right?
Here are some things I learned during this time:
Miniature Snickers bars are better than miniature Three Musketeers. Potato chips are not as good as boiled potatoes dipped in salt. Hammer makes a peanut butter gel that is kind of gross–definitely inferior to the GU gel.
I should eat more when I’m running a distance like this.
The Richard Bong Wilderness Recreation Area is a huge prairie area in southeastern Wisconsin. It was once slated to be an airport. I don’t know why it didn’t become one. But it has miles of trails.
Trails that are frozen in the early morning are hard on the ankles. Once they thaw, they get kind of squishy and are hard on the hips.
Mud can pull your shoes off. Oops.
After a while, it’s not going to hurt any more than it already does, so you might as well run because you’ll get done faster. I had a real low point from about mile 19 to mile 24ish. But I rallied during the last 4-mile loop and even passed two people during the last mile (I only passed about four people all race, so this was significant). Looking at the results, one of the people I passed went on to finish about three minutes behind me, so it made a difference.
Running where hunting is going on can be nerve-wracking, but hunters tend to be pretty methodical. Also, I think bullets are expensive, so they don’t want to waste them on you, because you’re not a pheasant.
The hooded sweatshirt I got for this run is awesome and I’m not taking it off until spring.
Driving home right after an ultra sucks. I cramped so badly. But listening to this interview of Lorretta Napolioni on Travel with Rick Steves was REALLY INTERESTING. One of the best interviews I have heard in a long time.
Although I am inherently an angry liberal, I’ve decided to try to talk to more people about politics lately because why not try to understand things outside of my liberal bubble. I had a nice conversation about politics with a woman I ran with for about seven or eight miles. She came from a more conservative part of the state, although she wound up voting for Clinton because of Trump’s statements about women. She was upset about the outcome of the election, but described Trump mostly as more transparently corrupt than Clinton. She wondered if he would be impeached.
Wouldn’t that be interesting.
My longest run for this race was the 18 miles I did last weekend while pacing at tBunk. Before that, I did 16 a week or two ago and 19 at the beginning of September. Otherwise I was busy racing on the weekends. I have gotten faster over short distances, but this wasn’t the best strategy for building the endurance needed for this kind of race. Oops.
Whatever I did right or wrong, I feel good today. I had a little light blistering on one foot (caused by my foot striking the uneven ground in a weird position) and some chafing and whatnot, but my muscles were back to nearly normal twenty-four hours later. I went down and watched the finishers at the Madison Marathon on Sunday and thought, wow, they look like hell. Do I look like that when finishing a race? And also, races are much more fun when you’re spectating instead of running them. And then Monday morning, I went out and ran five miles. Maybe I’m finally getting decent at these longer distance races. On the other hand, I don’t see myself doing any more this year, and next year is a big question mark, so maybe it doesn’t matter.
My blog got a bunch of hits the day after the election, as though someone was hoping I’d have something to say. And– I don’t know that I have anything to add to the ongoing fury, but I do have one observation.
In 2008, I went to an Obama rally in Philadelphia. It was October, not long before the election, and after eight years of Bush I didn’t feel especially optimistic that he was going to be able to bring us the change he was promising. My friends and I walked a long way through Philly to get to the rally, and then waited in line for a long time.
I live in a liberal area, but also a very, very white area. So while I knew Madisonians were enamored of Obama, it wasn’t quite like it was in Philly. As we waited under the hot noontime sun, I looked at an array of t-shirts featuring the senator dunking, the senator in African colors, the senator looking senatorial in that iconic HOPE image, Obama as Lincoln, Obama as a Russian comrade. They were different aspects of the man, different avatars. I began, dimly, to realize that all of these were ways in which the community–of democrats, but also of African Americans–were projecting themselves onto the man who was shortly to become president, convincing themselves that he was one of them, that his concerns were the same as theirs. This is like the imagined communities that Benedict Anderson wrote about. People imagine themselves into the political community of the nation; regardless of what the politician actually says, they find the ways in which it’s relevant to their lives.
It wasn’t until the current election and the selection of Hillary Clinton for the democratic nominee that I understood what was going on. The job of a leader is to lead, but to really inspire the populace, a leader has to provide a somewhat blank canvas for people to project something of themselves onto. I realized this even as I was doing it myself, feeling moved and significant to be voting for the first-ever woman who had a ghost of a chance of winning. I even own a magnificent t-shirt similar to those I saw back in 2008; this one features Hillary as George Washington and Bill as Martha.
The flip side of this, of course, is that we project our fears onto the opposition. Notwithstanding the fact that our current president elect has done and said some terrible things (for which, G-d willing, he’ll answer someday), I think the current hysteria in the liberal press is a bit overly dramatic. Trump is not the Antichrist; he’s just some guy. Are bad things happening? Yes. There have been some hate crimes committed this week. But those are still illegal. Let’s not lose sight of this fact: we are not living in a dictatorship. This isn’t the Philippines, people can’t just walk into your house and shoot you for free right now. He is not going to dismantle every liberal advance of the last fifty years. I don’t think he can. Is he going to be embarrassing and tone-deaf? Yes. Is he going to start a nuclear war? I don’t believe it.
We’ve had good presidents and bad presidents, and the country has always survived them. In fact, the country has pretty consistently alternated between liberal and conservative leadership for the last forty years at least. The majority of Americans don’t make their decision based on much more than how they feel they’re doing when they step in the voting booth.
For the majority of voters, this was not a referendum on the state of the soul of the nation. It was two crappy politicians making half-believable promises. I desperately want to believe that it is not the case that 50% of the (voting) country is composed of racists, sexists, bigots, anti-Semites. They’re just people who are frustrated with the current administration. I’m actually willing to place a bet that most of them did not vote against Clinton because she was a woman, or because they have some complex view that boils down to reasons why women cannot be president. If anything, the handful of liberals who have confessed, “I wasn’t that happy with Hillary” is the reason for why she lost–she was inspiring to me, but a moderate neo-liberal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and a lot of them would just rather not make the effort to go vote for her. Hillary will always be president in my heart, and let me be clear–I cried when I realized she was going to lose–but the truth is, a lot of people think about the whole situation and shrug.
And that’s all I have to say about that. Stop reading the news, you’ll be happier. Get off social media and go outside. The moon is nearly full. Look at the stars and think about how small we all really are. And also this.
Okay, who wants to hear about pacing?
Last Saturday I joined my friend Sandy in Kettle Moraine State Park for 18.2 miles of fun after dark. For four and a half hours, we hiked, jogged, and occasionally fell down over wide trails that occasionally grew rocky and hard to navigate. The stars were magnificent, the temperature was chilly, and the woods are dark and terrifying.
I tried not to let on to Sandy the tenor of my thoughts, but it’s basically like being in every horror movie ever made. When you’re pacing, the person you’re running with has been running for 50+ miles, which puts one in an altered state of mind. It falls to the pacer to try to create reality for them, specifically by not introducing weird ideas about the terrible things that could just jump out of the woods at you.
Foxes make noises that sound like screams. A whole bunch of foxes can sound like children screaming. It’s a really weird thing to hear in the middle of the woods. Coyotes sound like you’d expect. And then we came around a bend and realized we could hear a sort of humming noise, like traffic at a distance. But we were in the middle of the woods out past Whitewater, not a spot known for heavy traffic patterns. In fact, when I looked at a map later on, I was fairly sure that we weren’t even near the meagre one-lane road that ran past the park. I told her I thought it was traffic anyway, because all my other ideas about what it could be ranged from the outré to the mildly macabre.
In the dark, it’s hard to get clues from the environment in the way you normally would. For example, you can’t see the horizon or in many cases tell if you’re going up or down a gentle slope. Your internal proprioception can begin to fail and you find yourself running in all sorts of weird positions.
As I was leaving, Sandy got her hiking poles out and went off to spend the next seven hours hiking alone through the woods (and then another six hours with her next pacer). I am staggered by the amount of commitment and mental fortitude that an event like this requires. It feels superhuman. I shivered halfway home, eventually stopping to buy decaf coffee, chocolate milk, and cheesy popcorn at the only 24-hour gas station I could find. Then I stuffed popcorn into my mouth the rest of the way home. #noregrets
Occasionally I’ve been asked if I was going to do a longer ultra–something 50+ miles long. I always say “maybe.” It’s certainly daunting. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel up to it. Pacing for a 100-miler was awesome though. I’d totally do that again.
Tomorrow I’m off to the Richard Bong State Recreation Area to try and run 28-ish miles and not get shot by hunters. I am overly enthusiastic and under-trained. Should be fun!
As ever, if you’re having trouble reading, click to embiggen. I’ve had this comic sitting on my desk since before my trip to Long Island last week. I only just got around to scanning it. Oops. I was playing around with some different inks and Speedball pens. I have mixed feelings about how the art came out.
Recently, I was sitting around working while B was playing a game called Shadows of Mordor. It’s a surprisingly good game, and we found ourselves getting drawn back into the whole Tolkien thing. First, we watched The Hobbit (the Tolkien edit, not the full version–also, our copy was corrupted, so I missed the battle of the five armies). Thereafter, I started re-reading The Lord of the Rings. At first I was only going to read FoTR . . . but I’m about to finish TT tonight. I’m surprised by how much my memory of the book has been overwritten by the film version, which I saw approximately 100 times (each section). I had forgotten, for example, that Faramir doesn’t try to drag Sam and Frodo back to Osgiliath(?) only to be attacked by a Nazgul. (Now I’m not even sure I’m recalling the film correctly.)
I’ve also become obsessed with the distances everyone is traveling in the book. In many sections it’s hard to tell, but in general I get the feeling that before the splintering of the fellowship, they are walking about twenty miles per day, more or less. That’s twenty miles in eight to twelve hours. At one point, when traveling with Glorfindel, this is referred to as a very long, difficult day’s march. The above comic was my immediate reaction. Of course, terrain counts for something, and they were frequently not on trails but just sort of out in the middle of the country, but still. (Maybe it was Bill the pony slowing them down?) Somewhat surprisingly, both groups (Legolas / Gimli / Aragorn and Sam / Frodo / Gollum) move much faster after the splintering than before it. But seriously, if I can run 31 miles in six hours, they should be able to go a little faster.
Another thing that interests me is that at least up to the point where Sam, Frodo, and Gollum enter Mordor, Sauron’s evil is very remote. The surroundings, even into Ithilien, are described as beautiful and the weather is quite fine. If one takes the tales of Sauron’s evil as provided by such luminaries as Gandalf, Elrond, etc. as tales (opinion rather than necessarily fact), it’s easy to begin to see Sauron as just a (hated) political leader. The orcs, for example, as seen during the scene of Merry / Pippin’s abduction, are quite like men in many ways with their conflicting loyalties and drive for glory. Sauron also employs regular men for his cause. In fact, when Faramir and his troops ambush a bunch of soldiers heading to Mordor, Tolkien offers us the following surprisingly sympathetic passage:
. . . Suddenly straight over the rim of their sheltering bank, a man fell, crashing through the slender trees, nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. . . .
It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace… (646)
Tolkien was, of course, a veteran of the First World War. This paragraph speaks to me of perhaps a memory of his battlefield experiences and the trauma he may have experienced. But it also raises for me the question of Sauron–the ever-unseen Big Bad, who is noted to be fixing the roads outside Mordor, who is apparently able to convince a lot of people, including Sauramon, to join him–can he really be as bad as Gandalf et al tell us? But beyond that, even despite the themes of good and evil, Tolkien doesn’t necessarily view these battles as righteous or valiant, and he doesn’t necessarily lionize violence.
At this point, B looked over at me and said, “Are you arguing that Sauron is all right because he made the trains run on time?”
Well, maybe. Don’t look at me like that. My favorite characters from this rereading are Smeagol / Gollum and Galadriel, so.
If you’re interested in this “LotR is a story told by the victors and Sauron was framed” idea, you may want to look into The Last Ringbearer, a Russian parallel novel exploring that side of things.
There is clearly a lot more to talk about in LotR (I mean, it’s over 900 pages long), including world building, the role of women, the peoples and the North / West versus South / East thing, the colonial(ish) myth of empty places for colonization, etc. But I’m not going to touch on those here–feel free to comment with your thoughts though. And tell me I’m not alone in liking Gollum and hating Sam.
We’ll file this comic under GV1065.17 T65 L86 2016, for Recreation. Leisure–Sports–Track and field athletics–Foot racing. Running–Distance running–Marathon running–Special topics, A-Z–Tolkien, works of.
Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings. New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
 I still really want to see the Dol Guldor part. I love Galadriel and am a longtime fan of the actor who played Radagast.
 I actually feel like Gollum is rather hard done by. He certainly doesn’t deserve much of the shit he gets at the hands of Frodo and Sam. Sam is especially pretty cruel to him–there’s another paragraph where Gollum finds the two hobbits sleeping, and Tolkien writes that “could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, and old starved pitiable thing” (699). That passage very much made up my mind about him. And he is a much more interesting and complex character than a lot of them.
Blueshift, by Claire Wahmanholm. Not going to review, but I’ll say that if this doesn’t get picked up by a publisher, the world will be a sadder place.
That’s ten fiction books in various genres and five nonfiction. I also read
about 3,500 pages of books as an editor (one 300-ish page novel and twelve non-fiction books, several of which were highly academic). There may have been a few more that didn’t make it onto the list, plus let’s not even mention the various books that I picked up, read a chapter of, and put down again. (I am an annoyingly peripatetic reader; my tendency is to leave books here and there, never finishing more than a chapter at a go. Sometimes it can take me a long time to read things.)
I think my favorite of this group was Dune. That is a hard determination to make; many of these really spoke to me in deep ways, and as a writer I learned a lot from many of them. My love for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is very profound, I should add. It was a close race.
This was also the year that my book came out in paperback. So far, of the initial one hundred copies I purchased, I have twenty left. I didn’t get a website up yet, but soon. I know I’ve been saying that for several months now.
This is my preliminary reading list for 2016. Some of these are carry-overs from last year, and I have to look at them again and determine whether or not they’re still something I’m interested in. In a few days when I have solidified it, I’ll move it to the navigation bar above. If you have any books to recommend for me, feel free to let me know and maybe I’ll add them to the list.
The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimer McBride
Viviane, by Julia Deck
The Way of Kings, by Branden Sanderson
Rock ‘n’ Roll, by Tom Stoppard
Being and Nothingness, by Jean-Paul Sartre
Dhalgren, by Samual R. Delaney (I did a little excited dance when this came in the mail)
Emma, by Jane Austen (How have I not read this before? I have read P&P, S&S, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey.)
The Parallax View, by Slavoj Zizek
The System of the World, by Neal Stephenson
The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The History of Human Sexuality, by Michel Foucault
“The Library of Babel,” by Jorge Luis Borges (yes okay, it is a short story)
This marathon, you guys. I don’t know what to say about it. It has been a tough couple of weeks for me. And so . . . this is my blog, let’s talk about it.
My training for this race was pretty consistent. I logged 208 miles in June, 221.5 miles in July, 253.8 miles in August, and 229.4 miles in September. My longest run was 23.5 miles, which was our running group’s trek out along the planet path from the Monona Terrace to Mount Horeb. That run happened August 29, and it was basically my last long run of the training session. I had an 18-mile run toward the beginning of August too, and a bunch of runs in the 15–16 mile range. There were some weekends where I meant to do 15/15 or 13/13 across Saturday/Sunday, and typically the second day’s run was not as long as planned. But then again, there were a lot of weeks where I took a random day off on a Tuesday or Wednesday to deal with aches and pains preemptively and then ran on Friday, so my legs typically weren’t as fresh going into the weekend as they might have been.
I also did some speedwork for this race. I did mostly 800s (working up to 10 x 800), 400s, or in the last two weeks, strides (15-second sprints with about 45–60 seconds of recovery). These were always as part of a run with warmup and cooldown on normal terrain, not on a track. My pace on these was usually around 8:00 min/mile plus or minus; in fact, the goal for each run was to do the intervals (not the strides) at 85% to 90% of max HR. I made this decision based on the strategies suggested by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas in Road Racing for Serious Runners. The book is more geared toward races up to the half marathon distance, but I do so little speedwork that it seemed like a good (and unintimidating) starting point. Eighty-five percent of max HR or 8:00 min/mi works out to be about a 5K race pace, which is slow enough that I’m not (or don’t seem to be) in danger of injuring myself doing it.
Finally, my running group was doing our long runs at close to race pace, often in the 8:50–9:20 min/mi range, which basically turned my long run into a long tempo run every week. This was quite helpful; I started out this training cycle just after the 50K feeling like a 9:20 was very fast, and finished able to do a half marathon distance run at an 8:48 min/mi pace, which required some pushing but felt generally comfortable. As a result, I decided my goal for the race—contingent on having a good taper—was going to be 3:55:xx.
So on the 26th of September, I tested for 4th kyu in aikido. The last weeks prior to the test were for me filled with a lot of aikido classes, so I was feeling a bit bruised by the end of it and ready to taper. Then, on the 28th, Bryan had knee surgery.
The Knee Surgery Thing
Back in the spring, B had his knee scoped. I think the technical term is a knee arthroscopy. The idea was to get a good look at a small defect on the femoral articular cartilage that has prevented him from running for, at that point, a bit over a year. At the time, the ortho shaved down the edges of the defect, and B decided to see how it went. But after rehabbing it, he found that while he could do short sprints during a game of ultimate, he couldn’t really run farther than about a mile and a half with me (on grass-covered trails, specifically) without pain. And then a day came when he went to frisbee and ran too much and the pain didn’t stop for over a week. So he got put on the list for a cartilage transplant.
The thing about being on the list, besides the awesomeness of medical technology that this is an option and the creepiness of having someone else’s cells in your body, is that you don’t know when exactly they’re going to call and tell you it’s time to rock and roll. So B got the call two weeks before my marathon, and possibly because of the aikido test (plus a play we were going to that weekend), he scheduled the surgery they told him Monday the 28th was go day. I’m glad he was able to come to my test, which meant a lot to me, and able to enjoy the play, which would have been difficult if he’d had to try to manage APT on crutches. But it did leave us a rather slender window for him to recover enough for a four-hour car ride.
After the first surgery last spring, he was back on his feet almost right away. Not an exaggeration: We went out to dinner that evening, and I had to glare at him to get him to bring the crutches into the restaurant. The surgery itself was very non-invasive, and they encouraged him to get back to walking as soon as he could. The second surgery ended with a four or five inch incision down the front of his knee, and he’s now on crutches with orders not to put any weight on the affected limb for the first three weeks, with another three weeks of gradual buildup to follow. So not only was his mobility a good bit different, his pain levels were as well; after the first operation, I think he took a few Tylenol, whereas after the nerve block for this one wore off, he needed serious painkillers. And then he developed some other side effects that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that it was kind of an unpleasant week for him.
The thing about the running industry, such as it is and such as I interact with it, is that it is always telling people they have to make running a priority. Going out for a jog, being fit—if you want those things, you have to prioritize them. But the thing is, running is not really a priority for me in that sense. Running is a thing I do in order to stay sane and manage my stress levels, just like brushing my teeth is a thing I do because I have a horrible fear of my teeth falling out like in Tommyknockers to maintain dental hygiene. Race preparation, on the other hand, is something I have to prioritize or it doesn’t really happen.
Over the course of the week, watching B’s health/comfort levels wax and wane, it became clear to me that there was a serious question about whether or not he was going to be able to make the drive up. And I wasn’t ready to leave him to anyone else’s machinations; either we went together or I wasn’t going. So it may be obvious here what I’m pointing at—my taper did not really happen, or not very well.
The Personal Becomes Political
Monday was also when the race organizers sent out an email informing us runners that a protest by the group Black Lives Matter was being planned to disrupt the race at mile 25. Apparently they (BLM) had first announced their plans on the 26th or so, but I wasn’t following the issue then.
At first, I was quite disappointed. After a really long, stressful summer, I had been really looking forward to going up to see my brother and his wife, hanging out, doing the race . . . it sort of belatedly dawned on me that this was a very privileged way to look at things—they’re ruining my relaxing vacation, my race, and so on, when what they’re asking for—justice for police brutality—is both an extremely reasonable thing to request and something that it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to deal with. Which is to say, anyone in the BLM crowd would also like a relaxing vacation weekend, but they weren’t going to get it.
By, I guess, late Wednesday, I was reconciled to the fact that I would run twenty-five miles to where the protest was, symbolically turn off the course, and then jog back to my brother’s house about a block away. And then do, you know, another 1.2 miles on my own. But I wouldn’t be officially finishing. (I came to this decision in part because of discussions with a number of very smart friends and in part because I read some of the comments on the marathon’s Facebook page and realized which side of the issue I thought I wanted to be on. But also, to be honest, the whole thing also felt kind of secondary to the rest of the stuff that was going on in my life, like something I was watching from a distance.)
Thursday, the city of St. Paul and the marathon people announced that a deal had been struck and the race would not be obstructed. Instead, the protesters would be given 1) a meeting with the mayor, and 2) a place near the finish to hold their protest.
So, spoiler alert, B was able to make the drive up. Friday afternoon and all of Saturday were spent in Daniel and Claire’s most entertaining company, doing things like drinking Pimm’s and grapefruit soda, eating curry, and watching episodes of Sherlock. Then, Sunday morning, we got up early for the race.
Well, the race was at 8:00; I got up at 5:00 because B got up at 5 to take some pain meds. So it goes. Daniel and Claire kindly dropped me off at a few blocks from the starting line around 7:40, just enough time for a quick warm up and a stop at the port-o-potty. Actually, the PoP I found was right where a bunch of the pros were lining up, so I got to pee within ten feet of the person who actually won the marathon.
The beginning of the marathon was a bit of a problem. The race typically hosts about 8,500 people or so, and we were divided up into four corrals. However, as I jogged along the sidewalk, I could see pacer signs but no indication of where each corral started. I also noticed that the numbers of the runners in the corral I was passing (corral 1) were a different color than mine, which made me anxious that I’d accidentally stumbled into the 10-miler starting area instead. Eventually I ducked in and a woman in a bright yellow vest told me to move back to the 2nd corral (where I was assigned to start).
I had jogged about 0.27 miles at this point. For some reason, I decided to just hit lap on my watch rather than clearing it. This had a few unintended consequences. First, during the first mile plus, there were a lot of tall buildings that messed up the distance tracking of my watch; since the time was also off, I couldn’t rely on that to estimate my pace. Second, I didn’t realize that the corrals were going to be released as waves, with several minutes between each. So not only was my watch off from the time on the mile marker clocks by an unknown amount, our wave time was also. Basically, I was pretty lost.
The route starts out downhill for the first mile, then turns up as you run past the Walker art museum (a beautiful building; I’d love to see the collection there sometime) at mile 2. The best sign spotted during this section said “Keep running! . . . Unless you’re Donald Trump!” Then it’s on to circle three lakes, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet from around the 5K mark. This part of the race is great—the houses ringing each lake are easily some of the priciest properties in the city, and there was a good crowd out to watch and cheer us on, too (and all of their dogs). I felt very strong and relaxed through this section, and I was making pretty good time, clocking low 9s and even some high 8s (8:58, 8:46, 8:48). I came through the 5K in 28:xx and the 10K in 56:xx. Around mile 8, we left the first three lakes and entered a long, fairly flat part that went beneath some underpasses and eventually left us near Lake Nokomis around mile 11. I had originally thought I was going to see Daniel and Claire during this part of the race, so I stayed occupied looking for them in the crowds. Later I found out that they missed me in several places by only a few minutes. Crumbs.
I came through the half marathon point in what I thought, after considerable mental calculation, was about 1:58:xx. I was still moving well, and I knew if I could do the second half in that amount of time, I would wind up very close to my goal. At this point, I decided that I was going to take it easy until I reached Summit Avenue, and then really hammer it home on the last 10K. Just really leave it out on the course.
Of course, there were some complications. Aren’t there always? Somewhere around mile 17, my left knee began to ache. At first I thought it might be my IT band, since jogging with Daniel the day before he’d mentioned his own ITB issues. I slowed considerably because of the pain, and the four hour pace group was suddenly right behind me. I managed to gap them briefly, only to be caught when I stopped to stretch. I told myself I’d catch them back up, but I didn’t see them again for the rest of the race. Of course, the problem wasn’t my ITB—it was my hip. So there wasn’t really anything I could do. I tried to just relax and enjoy the day, since I quickly came to the realization that my goal time was not going to be met. At one point, I saw a lady with an orange tabby cat on a leash. The cat was lying in the grass, looking pretty chilled out, all things considered. I shouted at her, “That’s a funny-looking dog.” She seemed confused and shouted back, “Thanks?”
Around mile 19, there was a considerable hill near the University of St. Thomas that I’d forgotten about. At the top of it, a friend from my running group, Julie, was spectating, and she jogged about a block with me. That gave me a big boost. Then I finally got to turn onto Summit, which was kind of a bummer because the first two or three miles are one gradual hill. I don’t remember noticing it last time, but this time it was both obvious and hard. But I got to see Daniel and Claire in there (I think around mile 22), so that was another exciting boost.
Summit Avenue is another really nice section of town with really expensive old houses to gawk at. As I recall from 2008, the stretch between miles 23 and 24 was the longest ever. Although I kept hitting the lap button on my watch when I passed a mile marker, it was never registering a mile when I got to the next one, so everything seemed interminable. I was also having quite a bit of pain in both knees by this point. Then I got to see not just Daniel and Claire at mile 25, but B as well—he’d managed to crutch down to see me hobble by. What a rush!
I did reflect, as I left him, that if the protest had gone off as planned, I would be stopping at that point. And, to be honest, I would have been totally okay with stopping. But I was so close.
As I approached the finish line, I remembered the protest again. I had planned to symbolically raise my hands in the “hands up” gesture as I ran past them to express my solidarity for the protesters, since I thought from what I’d heard from the race that it was unlikely they were going to give runners the option to exit the course. But I didn’t actually see the protest. I did see, off to the left behind a chain-link fence, a bunch of people holding signs, but they were mostly white, and also standing in a circle facing inward, so I couldn’t really read any of the signs to determine what group they represented. And I was actually in some not-inconsiderable pain and very focused on just getting through to the finish line, so I decided not to stay and look around and just kept going.
I finished in 4:03:36, about eight minutes off my goal time. The first time I ran the TCM, in 2008, I finished in 4:41:10, so I’ve made considerable improvements in the last seven years. I’m not quite where I want to be/think I should be, but I’m somewhere other than where I started. And that’s sort of the idea, I guess.
As I mentioned, I crossed the finish line with pain in both knees. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage. With B’s help, the joint got shifted back to its proper position, and I am now again pain-free. I have already been out and run a few times this week, with no noticeable problems other than my quads being tired. I also felt pretty beat up generally at the finish; I think I have done so many trail races lately that I had kind of forgotten how running so far on concrete makes you feel like you’ve been beaten. My next two races are on a combination of cement and gravel, so we’ll see how that affects me.
I also finished with some pretty bad chafing on my back—it seems the belt I was carrying my phone in bounced around a lot, to the point where I had several kind of ugly, bloody scrapes on the small of my back. Those are still healing—yesterday at aikido, I noticed the top piece of my hakama occasionally digging into them when I fell. Ow.
Other than those, life has been pretty decent. And B’s recovery has been going pretty well.
When I told the story of this race to a friend, she asked why I didn’t just stop when things started to hurt. I don’t really have a good answer. I guess I just didn’t feel like anything was bad enough to warrant stopping, so I didn’t. What kind of what would warrant stopping? I don’t know the answer to that either. I do know that I have one more big race (ultra) and a half scheduled for this year, and possibly a 5K or 10K on Thanksgiving, and then I’m going to take it a little easy for a while. Easy meaning nothing longer than a half, maybe doing some weird trail race distances that are, you know, 15K or whatever. Maybe doing some more swimming. I feel like I say that a lot after marathons. I guess time will tell if I actually mean it.
 Not to sound too noble. I was going to run 26.2 miles on Sunday regardless of where I was, but if I was at home, I was planning to do 5 x 5 mile loops with a break for an ice cream sandwich after each.
 Okay, that was one of the weirder sentences I’ve written.
 I found out later that the 10-mile race had already been won by the time we set out. The winner finished in about 56:xx. Holy cow.
 Best dog: a husky who, when he heard the crowd shout “Woo!,” started howling. Also spotted a small bear-like beasty (possibly a chow puppy) being held and bounced like a baby by its owner.
 My SI joint slips, and then one of my legs becomes longer than the other, putting pressure on my knees. I’ve started doing more plank/dead bugs/half bridges to try to prevent it, but it still happens.
 So for liability reasons, races don’t want you leaving the course without telling anyone. There have been cases of runners getting eaten by bears and so forth—of course, an unlikely outcome in a big city marathon, but still.