Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This is Finished

I regret to inform you that I am suspending all blogging activities, for one main reason: I gots too much other stuff going on right now.

Mainly the requirements of learning a new job and going to school are taking the lion's share of my attention these days. Whereas I used to spend quite a bit of time at work writing for this here blog, that is not an option at my present place of employment. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I am certainly not bored anymore!

Thanks for reading all these years. It's been fun.

Be well, and if you feel compelled to catch up, here's my email address: mike@ grandpagriffith.com.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Morning Verses

Sorry it's been awhile. You know-- work, school....

I’ve been listening to The Who’s _Tommy_, (you know, the “deaf, dumb, and blind kid?”) while getting ready for work these days.

“Tommy doesn’t know what day it is
He doesn’t know who Jesus was or what praying is
How can he be saved
From the eternal grave?”

Whenever I hear this song, “Christmas,” I think of my old pal from high school Patrick Franklin. He was a big fan of the musical and would always remind me of the theological implications of the lyrics. In fact, I think if I dug up my old yearbooks I would find his words of wisdom amongst a bunch of “Have Great Summer”s from other more typical high schoolers: “Christmas = religious song.”

It’s an odd thing to start your day with memories of a high school past. Although they were mostly enjoyable times and I look back on those experiences fondly, I will take my present life over high school 10 times out of 10.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


My life has been a whirlwind as of late. Sorry for the handful of readers out there who have been crying everyday for the loss of stuff to read here. I have started week three of my new job. Everything is going really well. I’m learning all kinds of new things. The people I work with are nice.

Here’s the FAQ on my job transition:
Where do you work?
Delta Dental. It’s at NW 63rd and Broadway.

What’s your schedule?I work a shift that is basically 2p-0p. while it was definitely the one worrisome issue when deciding to take the job, I must say that it has not been that big of a deal. I still get up and go to bed at the same times, still run and cycle at the same times. I just have a chunk of time in the mornings to use as I see fit before going to work.

Do you ride your bike to work?
No. While it’s possible to do it in the future, my present priority is to learn my job and learn what days will be light days and which will be heavy days, as far as workload is concerned.

What do you do?
I perform daily (nightly) operations on a computer, which basically means I kick off a mostly automated process that moves insurance claims from one location to another and turns it into payment info. At several points in the process I report on the numbers to make sure everything is working as it should. I still need to fully learn what is going on behind the scenes, but I know enough to get the process done.
Of course, the best part of the job has been how infrequently I have to talk to people. Yes, I know how curmudgeonly and misanthropic that sounds but after 11 years of talking to the public on the phone about their needs, both real and perceived, I was ready to be done with it.
All that to say, so far so god on the new job.

In other news- I ran my first duathlon on Sunday! “Duathlon? What’s that?” Well, you know how a triathlon is swimming, biking and running? Well, in a duathlon you replace the swimming part with another running section.

On Sunday I did the Fall Classic Duathlon in Purcell. The distances were 4k (something close to 2.5 miles) run- 24k (about 15 miles) bike- and another 4k run. (When you’ve run 26.2 miles and cycled over 100 miles, it’s pretty easy to get motivated for these shorter distances. The only variable at this point is pace. And that brings me to the one thing that was going on in my head in preparation for this event. In most of my other races, I have never pushed myself, as far as pace is concerned. I’ve always gone into distance races with a pace memorized and internalized and just gone out and “done it.” Just like hundreds of times before. This has been a way to calm nerves, the thought being “You can do this, Mike. You’ve done this exact same activity many, many times.” I also hate the feeling of being tired. I hate being on the edge of not being able to catch my breath. “what if I I run out of breath and have to stop ?” runs through my mind, probably subconsciously.
I decided that I would focus on going past the point of comfort with this race.

Each leg was a distance I’ve done many times. I decided to try to make myself tired this time and try to catch my breath on the transitions. (The transitions are the points where you grab your bike and change out of running hoes into running shoes and vice versa.) And it worked! I went out fast on the first run, the fastest pace I’d done in months (on an obscene running course I’ll add, with a 6% hill in the middle of it), quickly changed shoes in transition to get on the bike and REALLY pushed myself on the bike. I never get to huffing and puffing on the bike on flat stretches but, but decided that I was serious with this thing and was pretty quickly making up time on a few faster runners than me. It felt really good. I remember thinking: “Man, you are pushing too hard! You won’t have anything left for the run and that giant hill.” But I immediately blocked it out and thought, “I’ll worry about that hill when I get to it.”

Turns out, I should have worried about that hill while I was still on the bike!

Granted, I wasn’t the only one slowed to a crawl by that point. There were quite a few walkers. But I refused to walk, even though I was climbing at a pace barely above a walk. I looked at my watch and saw that I was waaaay ahead of where I expected to be at that point and there is also the undeniable physics lesson in that for every ascent there is also a descent, and that helped me visualize the finish line and good friends waiting for me. (Thanks, Whitesides and Clint.)

Overall, I ended up finishing 13 minutes faster than expected, was 2nd in my age and weight class. I FINALLY left a race feeling like I had given it everything I had.

Friday, September 24, 2010


So, after eleven plus years at Integris Health, last Friday I gave my two-weeks notice. There is a lot I could write about this, but it turns out that trying to transfer eleven years' worth of knowledge and processes to semi- computer-literate women over the age of 50 is kinda time-consuming.

My last day in this office is October 1st. I approach it with some sadness, but really more curiosity to see what the future holds.

My new employer will be Delta Dental.

More as I find time...

Friday, September 10, 2010

A scary, yet humorous passage from Tony Blair's new book

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and I have stumbled across the full range in my time. I recall sitting across the table from some leaders, unable to think of anything other than: my God, the poor people of that country. You get the dumb; the cynical; the tedious; the mildly unsuitable; the weird; the products of systems so mad and dysfunctional, you find yourself marveling that the leader is sentient, let alone capable. And frankly some weren't sentient. I remember asking rather unkindly when told of one leader's death, "How could they tell?"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hotter Than Hell

And now a word about Hotter Than Hell.

Hother Than Hell is a hugely popular weekend of cycling in Wichita Falls, Texas that happens every year. There are lots of events- criterium racing, road racing, mountain biking, endurance rides, even a 5k run…It’s huge.

I decided to give the 100 mile endurance ride a try last weekend. (Of course, I didn’t just “decide” to do it on a whim. I had been preparing for the last 10 weeks or so...)

The number one thing I heard about the century was how many other people do it. “Prepare for crashes,” “Get there early,” “Be ready to stand with your bike waiting to start for a long time,” “Be ready to ride shoulder-to-shoulder for a long time…” Indeed there were at least 13,000 people out there on bikes on Saturday morning doing one of the various distances. (100 miles was the longest route.) But I must say I wasn't locked into a pack, shoulder-to-shoulder for very long like I expected (and worried about.)

Unlike other bike events I’ve done, every intersection was protected by police or blocked off for the entire length of the course, which is a real luxury. It seems like automobile traffic in the whole surrounding county or two just shuts down for this weekend.

Was it hotter than hell?

No. It was merely hot as hell. No hotter. In actuality, at 7am when the ride started, it was rather perfect riding conditions—mid 60s. Not particularly windy. As the ride progressed, however, and the sun started to climb in the sky, it got to the mid 90s. Not ideal, but certainly better than what’s possible in Texas in the mid-to-late summer.

How did it go?

I started off the ride like a man possessed, like I usually do, passing people like crazy, feeling awesome and not working really hard. As we made a turn to the north I got even faster with a good tailwind.

And right about the point I hit 50 or 60 miles, I faded quickly. This was the point where the crosswinds and headwinds appeared and someone turned on the heat. The last 30 or 40 miles were miserable due to the conditions, the sparse, unshaded landscape and the strange things my body started doing as a result. I got nauseous, couldn’t really take in enough calories and was sweating out salt like crazy. My clothes weren’t so much sweaty as they were white with salt. Not a fun time.

But...I finished—in what turned out to be just about an average pace for me on long rides this summer.

And after crossing the finish line and sitting down staring into nothing while my pal Mindy (who kicked my ass and finished well before me I have to admit) tried to snap me back into reality, I went to the medical tent to lie down, cool off and take in some Gatorade. Luckily I didn’t require any IV fluids, but the doctor said that I had shown an “impressive” amount of salt loss. Um...thanks? About 30 minutes later, after proving that I could pee on command, I was off on my merry way.

So, all in all it was a pretty tough day. It was much more about endurance- what I could make myself do- rather than about speed, which was a little disappointing.

Sometimes it goes like that.

The tough days make the good days seem sweeter, however.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Morning Verses 8/25/10

Mornings are an interesting, sometimes humorous aspect of being human. They are simultaneously harbingers of the future (of hope or dread, depending on a person’s mental state at any one particular point in time) and reminders (of yesterday’s foolishness- “the night out drinking that shouldn’t have happened,” or yesterday’s piety- the choice to “go to bed early for a change.”)

I think everybody who works the day-shift experiences the phenomenon of mornings a little bit differently. For some it’s a model of chaos while for me, mechanistic efficiency is the name of the game. The alarm goes off, I rise, not really processing information, eat a small breakfast and head out the door for a ride or run.

But it’s that alarm part I want to discuss. I have a CD alarm. It plays songs to wake me up. I usually try to mix it up so it plays different CDs every few weeks. I thought it might be interesting or revealing to discuss the very first things I hear, for it’s important how we start our daylight life.

This morning’s song was spot-on appropriate. “Blessed Relief” by Frank Zappa. Anyone living in Oklahoma knows we’ve had our share of oppressive heat as of late, many humid 100 degree days. This morning’s temperature? The 60s. “Blessed Relief” indeed.

People talk about the weather. Other people talk about talking about the weather as boring and superficial.

I am starting to view weather as a metaphor that people talk about when they really are discussing much deeper things—the challenges and ease of being alive. We “suffer through” the heat just like we suffer through times where it seems life hands us “one damn thing after another.” Illness, death, bad luck—we trip through these periods with no end in sight. On the other hand, we rejoice in the fall colors as if they were some friend having a baby or getting married or falling in love or singing for no discernible reason at all. We are so tied to our environment. And we talk about the weather because amongst all of the other things in life which keep us apart from one another- the distractions and busyness- at least we all locally are experiencing the weather together.

The laid-back, plodding instrumental jazz-rock of the song today was the soundtrack to new hopes, change and all of those kinds of positive thoughts as I prepared for a pleasant bike ride to work.

Sometimes it seems the universe creates these appropriate correspondences to see who is paying attention.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Up With Books!

This, from Lev Grossman's profile of novelist Jonathan Franzen in this week's Time magazine:

There are any number of reasons to want novels to survive. The way Franzen thinks about it is that books can do things, socially useful things, that other media can’t. He cites- as one does- the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and his idea of busyness: that state of constant distraction that allows people to avoid difficult realities and maintain self-deceptions. With the help of cell phones, e-mail and handheld games, it’s easier to stay busy, in the Kierkegaardian sense, than it’s ever been.

Reading, in its quietness and sustained concentration, is the opposite of busyness. “We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we’ve created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful,” Franzen says. “The place of stillness that you have to go to to write, but also to read seriously, is the point where you can actually make responsible decisions, where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world.”

So, in essence- wanna be a person of substance in a nonsubstantive world? Read a novel! :-)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Energetic Thoughts

I have only a few stray thoughts on energy:
1) It is easy for me to under-appreciate exactly how far our dependence on oil and coal reaches. I tend to think in a very limited scope—the petroleum that is refined so I can put gasoline in my car’s tank.

But in actuality, I use energy all the time and don’t really think about it. Whenever I flip a switch to turn on a light at home or work, I am consuming energy. Whenever I turn on a device that is plugged into an outlet—my TV, stereo, subwoofer, re-charge my laptop or phone, use the microwave, the stove, or turn on my air conditioner, refrigerator, furnace, or hot water heater, I am using energy. (The last four are the easiest to overlook due to the mere fact that I don’t actually “turn them on.” They are automated processes that I program and forget.)

And of course, those are the most immediate, controllable ways I use energy. But energy is also expended on my behalf, behind the scenes. For something as simple as buying a new toothbrush, a mind-boggling chain of energy consumption is enacted:

A toothbrush-designing scientist goes to work one day—turns the lights on in the air conditioned office, makes a pot of coffee, fires up the ol’ PC, sends his sketch for a new toothbrush model over to the CAD modeler in another office with another set of lights, another computer, another coffee machine, another air conditioner, who sends the final specs over to the manufacturing plant, with air conditioning, lights, coffee maker and giant, industrial-sized machines that cut and form the new toothbrush from plastic blanks (which were also probably formed by a separate manufacturing plant with separate lights, A/C, coffee maker, computers, industrial-sized machines and then shipped either by gasoline-powered truck or plane, ship, or rail), packaged in slim boxes made of cardboard and plastic produced by a whole other production process, loaded onto a truck, airplane or train and shipped to my local Target store with its own lights, computers, cash registers, A/C, coffee makers; where I can then drive my car to pick it up and drive home to use it for a few months and then throw it away.

Phew! That’s a whole lot of energy being used for something seemingly so simple for all of us, huh? (Granted, there is an element of scale involved here. These manufacturing plants produce thousands of products at a time. So, it’s not like all of that energy is used to make one toothbrush. I wonder, however, if efficiency studies of this magnitude are ever done by companies in their “greening-up” efforts.)

Of course, I have NO IDEA how to make this whole chain of energy usage work most efficiently. Like I said, it’s mind-boggling. Especially when you follow the similar chain for EVERY consumer product produced in the world!) I only know just enough to know what’s at stake.

There are very simple, seemingly insignificant ways that I try to reduce my consumption at home. Turn off lights in rooms when I’m not using them. I have replaced my standard light bulbs with the cooler-looking compact fluorescent bulbs (when they fit…grrr!) Program the house to get a little warmer in the summer during the day when I’m not there. Recycle all plastics. Thank the lord Oklahoma City’s metro utilities customers get this service for free. Or just thank Oklahoma City’s metro utilities if you like…

Although water is a resource and not necessarily energy, I still count its conservation as an important task and am careful to not leave it running while brushing my teeth (with my well-designed, totally efficiently-produced toothbrush! :))

Here’s where I fail:

Washing clothes—it seems my technical fabric running and cycling clothes can’t get washed with the rest of the laundry, so I wind up having to do waaaay more small, frequent loads of laundry than I would like.

I LOVE air conditioning in the summer. I keep my house very cool. (You will not get any exact numbers on here from me. Suffice it to say, you could hang meat in my living room!)

My gas-guzzling lawn mower. I think any gas I save with my bike commute is made up for in keeping up with my neighbors’ standards of acceptable grass height.

2) Charlie proffered a good visualization—a post-petroleum world. (Ever read the book _World Made By Hand_ by James Howard Kunstler? It’s a work of fiction that imagines just such a scenario. Kind of dystopian, I will warn you.)

What is the next energy source? I like wind and solar power because they seem virtually inexhaustible compared to our oil supply. (The sun won’t be flickering out for another million billion years or so. However, they are both intermittent. Sometimes the sun doesn’t shine on currently expensive solar panels, and it would take an awful lot of wind turbines to equal what we get from even present petroleum output.)

I think it’s true that the first trap we fall into with this question is thinking that there has to only be ONE energy source in the future. The cynical side of me says that the energy source will be whatever the giant energy companies can claim rights to and sell to us for a hefty profit. This single-source scenario is pretty much their wet-dream.

However, with cars and trucks and the electrical grids all being powered by a MIXTURE of fuel sources (read: competing companies in a true marketplace) we avoid the traps of our oily past—uber-powerful lobbies, price-gouging. And of course, true market competition allows for innovation and perhaps, just perhaps, increasing efficiency to the customer once the new sources have hit the market.

3) True confession time: when I watched the video footage of the recent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico my first thought was not: “Oh, the poor marine life” or even “Oh, my gosh! What are the fishermen in the area going to do?” (Again, proof of how interdependent the players are in this energy game.)

No, sadly, my first thought was “Oh, Good Lord! What a waste of perfectly good oil! Surely there’s some way we can still capture that oil and harvest it and bring it to market! Surely this won’t be 80-something days of complete, abject, unrecoverable waste!”

Does that make me a bad person?

Monday, August 02, 2010

One for Ryan

Some days, God damn! It’s slow work. I’ll get to the site 6, 7, just to be out of the heat. You know, that sun bouncing back on that plated, tinted glass that the bigger buildings use…that’ll really kill your initiative around 12 or so. Sun beating down. I’m sweating like I’m bathing in it…Those are the days when I’m cussing to myself, singing, imagining buckets of ice and beer…anything to make it go faster. And then you know it’s one of those tall bastards that takes a few days, so what’ve I got to look forward to the next day? Another day of it! Soak, rinse, wipe, dry, sweat, repeat.

Then there are those lucky days you might be out on the east side of town. Shady and quiet. Breeze blowin’ Maybe even birds singing. Sometimes I’ll act like I’m focused on the windows and the washing. Tilt my head up as I’m stretching, but really I’ll be looking out the corner of my eye. Looking inside at the workers in their air conditioning. They have all kinds of ways that they look busy.

No matter where I’m working it’s the same old show inside The same old characters. You can usually tell them by the clothes. There’s usually at least one sloppily-dressed guy. They dress up just enough to keep from getting fired. Usually don’t talk to anybody, just sit in front of their computers all day like they’re hiding in a foxhole.

Then the smaller buildings out there on the outskirts of town off the interstate, usually have one or two young-ish women, fresh out of high school or maybe a year or two older. Still young and pretty enough to dress up for work in new clothes. You can always tell them because the office seems to buzz around them One of these days I’ll invent a game where you place bets on which guy will talk to the pretty girl in the skirt first.

The boss is usually the guy who never looks up at me and the scaffolding as he’s passing by. Doesn’t make a lot of eye contact, probably to keep from having to stop and talk. They’re busy guys. I’m always amused at how the offices seem to look about the same whether those guys are around or not. They’ll get there around 10 or so on a Tuesday morning. Go straight to their office and close the door. Reappear around 4, looking at their watch. Head out to the parking lot while talking on their phone. Nice trick!

Seems like I also see a lot of guys who just kind of blend in. Scenery. They’re like the guys who would be soldiers or spear-holders in one of those Shakespeare plays. Definitely not salesmen. They don’t talk enough or dress nice enough to sell anybody anything. One time I saw one of those spear-holder fellas rub his eyes really hard after staring into space for about half an hour, scratch his hair like he was roughing up a pillow and jump out of his swivel chair in his cubicle. He walked straight past one of the dressed-up young-ish girls without even looking at her, (sure left her confused), and went over to the desk of one of the older ladies. She turned from her computer and looked up at him. He leaned in to tell her something quietly, which instantly, I mean, like super quick started the water-works. I mean she was cryin’ in seconds! He just walked away. I wish to God I knew what that was all about…what he said that would do that…

Anyway, I think they all assume I don’t see any of this out there, if they notice me at all. They probably think the walls protect them. I know more than I let on.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


What techniques should one employ to make moral decisions?

Thanks to Steven, I’ve been stewing on this one as of late, and have arrived at two different conclusions. There is the PREscriptive world of “book learnin’” and theory- deciding on what is “The Good,” which I can’t really discuss for very long, apart from my love of Kant’s categorical imperative when I was in college: which basically proposed that you should act as if the maxim of your behavior became a universal law. It’s basically an eloquent way of stating the Golden Rule. I also got a lot out of the utilitarian view: act in a way that brings the most pleasure (tricky word, pleasure: more like "lack of pain and suffering") to the most people.

Contrasted with the academic propositions is the question that really blew my mind even more, how do I make ethical decisions? Or even more basic: do I even MAKE ethical decisions in my day-to-day existence?

So, for today I will opt for DEscription. I have concluded that ethical decisions are actually what happen to a behavior after the fact. The vast majority of things I say to people, and do or not do to and with them are all instinctive. I tend to operate on auto-pilot, unthinkingly, like a machine. I possess a set of behaviors and responses to situations that have been somehow learned over the course of my life.

An example: when a stranger talks to me at the grocery store, knowing myself well I know I will succinctly attempt to try to answer their questions or acknowledge their comment in as quiet, polite, brief manner as possible so as to dispatch them pleasantly and then go about my business. Another person, with another set of learned behaviors might see the same situation as an opportunity for a rousing conversation and stand there and talk to the stranger for several minutes longer. At no point during the event do I process the thought “mmm. person talking to me. must cut short. Ibidy ibidy” (to be read in robot voice with hands extended like flippers alternately up and down.) Only later, at the checkout line or on the drive home or even months later, while writing a blog (or maybe even never) do I even think about the moral or ethical value of how that interaction went.

Of course, analyzing after the fact, I suppose I have some criteria I use to judge any action or inaction, (in no particular order):

1) Would any other person have responded the same way I did?
2) Would any rational, reasonable person have responded the same way I did?
3) Did the way I responded likely have any effect on The Other? Was it a positive or negative effect?
4) Would my friends have approved or thought it odd or out-of-the-ordinary?

Then there are the nuclear options: “Would God have approved?” and its corollary: “Would the Jesus I know from Scripture have behaved this way?” These are the nuclear options for a couple reasons. One, in all honesty they only crop up for me with respect to the most dire, evidently important events: friends in need or in pain or suspiciously out-of-the ordinary interactions with strangers. Two, expecting Christ-like behavior from myself on a consistent basis is sure to end in frustration. I don’t have the goods to deliver that performance very often. And I’m not even sure I WANT the goods. The life of Jesus is difficult and the death he got for his trouble is even more difficult

So now, the issue of prime importance for me is this: what effect, (if any), do these ruminations on the past, these analyses of previous behaviors have as a corrective to future behavior? In other words, I said I act as a machine in my workaday existence. Is there hope of ever changing the programming of the machine if necessary? I think deep within me is an understood hope that yes, I can change. Learned behavior doesn't HAVE to be final. Sometimes it is. But not always. How is the programming changed? Well, I'm not exactly sure.

And I would say my programming needs changing for two reasons, if: 1) through a behavior or inaction I am harming someone in my immediate vicinity and 2) through a behavior or inaction I am harming someone I don’t know.

All of the preceding was the ideal.

Here’s the practical. For pretty much every behavior I participate in, a “victim” of some sort can be tracked down. Case in point: let’s say I bike to work because it is an “ethical” thing to do. (which by the way, is only one of several reasons I engage in that particular behavior.) I use less gasoline in my car, which has slightly less impact on the environment and if everyone acted like I did, there would be even more people taking slightly less from the environment. Let’s put those damn oil-producing, price-gouging companies out of business! Huzzah!

But an oil company is more than just a fat-cat CEO out on his yacht while a pipe bleeds oil in the middle of the ocean. An oil company is also made up of thousands of regular people checking gas lines, working on oil rigs, people at desks who put in forty hours a week or so, poring over feasibility studies, running numbers…They use their paychecks to put food on the table for a family. We put that company out of business and those other common everyday people don’t eat. And when the oil company has to tighten its belt, maybe that desk-job working, number-crunching person cuts out a few extraneous costs in their budget like their daily trip to Starbucks. Bad news for the Starbucks employee if a lot of gas company employees are cutting out their daily coffee. It goes on and on. How much, (if any) of that am I responsible for with my original decision to use less gasoline?

I become dizzy as I try to mentally appease all of the potential beneficiaries and victims of my collections of behaviors and abstentions. I think it was Sartre who said we humans are cursed to be free. We are cursed in that we are free to act, yet we can't know the full consequences of those free choices.

What do I do in the mean-time?

“Do my best.”

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Now taking requests...

I'm out of ideas.

So, think of me as a cover band of the writing world.
You wanna read something? Let me know and I'll do my best to write it...
"Brown-Eyed Girl?"
You got it.
"Play That Funky Music White Boy?" Wow. Man, we haven't played that one since last week. But Ok. Here goes...

Seriously, my gift to you....I'll write it. You just have to get me started....

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

On Biking, Walking and the Sounds of the City

We have now reached the time of the year when commuting to work by bike is a lot more fun. I will take a little bit of warmth and sweat over that brutal winter north wind any day.

On the way home last Thursday I experienced a first since I started riding to work two years ago. I met another bike commuter! I had heard rumors that they exist, but had never actually seen one. I caught up with him and we started to chat. As you can imagine, we instantly had stuff to talk about. It was nice to know there is at least one other person who knows what it’s like. We talked about streets we avoid and times of day, how long we’ve been at it, etc.

I didn’t realize until I rode that familiar mile in the neighborhood with another person just how strangely isolating and lonely commuting can be.

Here’s why:
Riding a bike on this city’s streets requires a certain abandonment of regard for other people. It requires that you ultimately not care about people in cars who have the power to end it all for you in a split second. Not care about people stopped at intersections watching you go by, thinking you’re insane. I have found that consistently riding to work requires that I focus on me: myself and my safety. It requires that I control everything that is within my power to control and at the same time, abandon the rest to God and the good graces of the people with whom I share the road. (But doesn’t EVERYONE do this, even when they get behind the wheel? It’s just a little more critical for me because I don’t have tons of metal to protect me. I am vulnerable.) I would say that 95% of the time people driving in cars are very careful with me, which is actually a much better percentage than I expected when I started out.

Anyway, injecting a fellow traveler into this isolated mindset was refreshing.

I also spend time as a pedestrian on our city streets when going between buildings on our hospital campus a couple times a week and there are times when I really listen to the sounds of our city, the traffic.

I have come to the conclusion that, judging by the mere sounds of drivers, people in cars are angry. They drive their cars like people who are angry would drive their cars.

The thing they seem to hate most is to sit at a dead stop. They can’t get away from traffic lights and stop signs quickly enough. It sounds like they are trying to strangle their car’s engine or beat it into submission. You would think that people had a dying person in the back seat based on how quickly they set out to get to the next traffic light. The engines sound like they could blow at any moment.

I hear these sounds, (sounds I largely miss when I am in my own car and my own air conditioning amidst my own comforting music)- guys driving trucks that sound like school buses and souped-up muscle cars and shiny new status symbols as I’m walking around on lunch breaks, crossing a bridge that goes over a major highway, the constant, ceaseless whooshing sound of all of us going…somewhere…and it brings me a kind of feeling of empty sadness.

Where are we all going in such a hurry? Does modern life have to be this way? Mindlessly going from one place to the next? Always feeling late?

While I love my car and the convenience it provides, I also love the little challenge of life without it during my work week. While a lot of the folks in my office loathe the idea of being “stuck” without a car at work, I have found it to not be much of a sacrifice. Rather than rush home or run errands on my lunch break and rush back, I relax instead. Go over to the kitchen and eat something. Read. Take a nap. Listen to music. I have found that it helps to split my day this way.

Anyway, up with commuting by bike!

Friday, May 21, 2010

I Dreamed "I Dreamed a Dream"

This year has seen two high profile renditions of the song “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Miserables. Susan Boyle’s English Idol performance is legendary and it was a featured song on Glee this week.

Dear reader, I have to tell you these two pale in comparison to another version that I can’t seem to get out of my head…

I was a senior in high school- shy, quiet, playing trumpet or guitar (or both) in the pit for the vocal music department’s big year-end concert. You know that rush of feelings, like everything is sped-up, at the end of the school year? It was that time of year. And then on top of that I was graduating, so it was like my life was spiraling into adulthood, much faster than I or anyone could control. By a couple weeks’ time, all of the normal touchstones and routines of school life as I had known them for twelve years were about to be uprooted, lost to me.

With that on my mind, I sat in the pit during the first rehearsal, tacet for the next song. I loved the behind-the-scenes life of being a pit musician, getting to see all of the hidden work that goes into a stage production, so I relished all of the moments to just sit and observe.

I watched Jenni Luker- red-haired, porcelain-skinned, quiet, cheerleader Jenni Luker, inconspicuously appear on the edge of the stage. The elegiac opening chords began and I was transfixed siumltaneously by the sounds of that opening and the vision of Jenni standing, no, floating, she was floating in time and space. Quietly, she sang those first simple, unfamiliar phrases softly, plainly. Then the modulation and lyrics of tigers come to tear your dreams apart, equally resigned. This girl was weeping this song, not belting like a Broadway-bound diva.

And I’ve come to realize that’s the way it should be, just like Leonard Cohen says, “Love is not a victory march/ it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.” As Jenni whispered her broken Hallelujah, I too was stuck in time. And that memory- of the very moment I said goodbye to high school and the very moment I was wounded with a secret crush on this girl I might have said three words to since junior high- that memory will probably be stuck in my head, hanging in the ether, until I die.

The next day I managed to stumble through telling Jenni how beautiful and affecting her song was. I really wish I could remember what she said in response. Sometimes, though, it's the telling that's the important part, not the person's response.

Two weeks later school was out and I never saw her or heard about her again.

Since then, I’ve heard a handful of recordings, seen the song performed live by a traveling company, heard Ms. Boyle and Rachel Berry on Glee sing it for all they were worth, but not one of them, as technically flawless and rapturous as they may have been, not one of those performances felt the way it did back then. I keep searching.

Sometimes I wonder if she really ever existed.

I wonder if that whole performance is a beautiful story that my head created or that God placed in there for me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Strong with the force he is." (To be read in the voice of Master Yoda)

For a little over three months now I have been taking yoga classes once, (sometimes twice) a week at Cadence Yoga. This has been my first foray at anything remotely resembling this kind of activity, and in a word I must say it’s been an enjoyable process thus far.

I’m sure there are as many styles of yoga as there are yoga teachers. I have been taking a class called Vinyasa 1, which seems to have three main goals, physically-speaking: building strength, increasing balance, and increasing flexibility.

I am noticing that the kind of strength required for yoga is different than the kind of strength required for lifting heavy things for a certain number of repetitions. Holding static poses with only my body weight makes my whole body shake sometimes, whereas I never shake when I’m lifting weights.

A lot of times I will be standing in front of the mirror attempting to hold some pose that looks so simple- like sitting down in an invisible chair or making like a tree with one leg- and yet I will get this awful flash of fear that I’m going to fall over and make a fool of myself. In fact, this could be the pithy one line to describe my yoga practice: “It looked so easy…”

I am also horrible at this part, too. Some bodies seem built to do this better than others. I am not lithe and graceful. I am a pile of bricks. However, I do feel that if I keep practicing I will get better and be able to reach and stretch farther. I also have a hunch that this will help me with the cycling and running and my average walking-around life as well. I already find myself straightening up my posture throughout the day.

So, that’s the physical stuff. But of course, for the thoughtful person, there are non-physical components to this activity as well:

What a splendid machine this human body is! When I’m balancing and seeing hitherto unknown muscles in my feet and ankles jostling for control or feeling pressures in odd places or feeling that blessed lack of tension in the final corpse pose, I am fully aware of myself in ways that don’t often occur throughout the day. This is a wonderful way to start your day, being cognizant and attentive. There is a lesson in that: be deliberate.

Some mornings the muscles and tendons operate better than other mornings. Sometimes it’s a lot of sweaty work. I have found in recent years that anything worth having requires something from you. Nothing ever seems to come as easily as you would like it to. This practice is a good reminder of that.

Although I don’t really think I need all of the stereotypical “spiritual” benefits normally attributed to the practice of yoga I have learned one valuable lesson about myself over these introductory months: I am waaaaay too critical and judgmental with myself. As a musician I have always had problems with performance anxiety and apparently it spills over into other parts of my life. Many times, when “checking in” with my thoughts during a session I will find myself either happy with how some particular movement or pose went or devastated because I didn’t “do it right” or didn’t do it as well as I thought I could. Hopefully, at some point I will learn to just do and leave the running commentary at home.

Anyway, Mandy is a wonderful teacher and I highly recommend you go see her some time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Marathons, Goals, and Health

This is day two of marathon recovery and I am still walking around the house like an unsteady new-born calf. The pain is slightly less sharp today, however.

So, first things first…race report. Sunday’s marathon and the week leading up to it was exciting, nerve-wracking, exhilarating, and exhausting on both a physical and mental level.

Thoughts during the “taper week,” (when you severely cut down your mileage in order to rest and gather strength):

“How much is enough running?” “Will I forget how to run?” “Will my legs and body be angry if I rest?” “What if my tendon gets worse or snaps on Sunday?” “Is it possible that it could get better with enough rest this week?” “What if I have to stop at some point on Sunday? Will my friends understand? Will I be all right if I let myself fail to finish?”

Earlier in the week I can honestly say I was DREADING Sunday. You know that feeling of having some chore coming up that you’re not looking forward to, but that is beyond your control? Days move on into the future whether you want them to or not…That’s how I was feeling through Wednesday. Not very confident. Each short, slow 3- mile run was accompanied by some tendon pain, nothing unbearable, but I was worried. “How long can I or will I put up with this on Sunday? Three miles? 26.2?”

John Lennon pretty much screams “Why on earth are we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear!” in his song Instant Karma. I try to remember that moment in the song like a mantra whenever I approach the future with dread. You see I chose to give up dread several years ago. By the end of the work week I was able to look forward to Sunday, ready to rely on months of expecting brutal things from myself and ready for it all to be over and get some rest.

The weather at the start was pretty much perfect. I ran the first half to the best of my abilities with strength and free of pain.

And I paid for it from about mile 15 on. As the heat started in, I wound up walking much more than I wanted to and much more than in any of my training runs. I knew two things about walking. 1) Once I allowed myself to walk the first time, the second time becomes easier, leading to a downward spiral of motivation and 2) Starting running again after walking a while KILLED my Achilles tendon. I also became kind of nervous about two columns of salt running down both of my legs at about mile 17 and started taking in pretzels as much as I could stand. Salt deficiency is nothing to play around with in an event like a marathon.

My final time was 4:43:21, simultaneously a disappointment and a great accomplishment. It was a great achievement because I beat last year’s time by an hour and twenty-one minutes. It was a disappointment because I knew I was capable of better. I had a goal somewhere between 4:06 and 4:30. And that’s the real complication, isn’t it? Goals. Actually I had three goals in mind: dream, realistic, and acceptable. “Acceptable” for me was 4:30.

But what is the point of goals? Are they just arbitrary things we keep in our heads to ruin our chances of being content? Am I too hard on myself? Who knows? I really can’t complain though. It’s not like those time goals came from anywhere other than my own head. It’s self-imposed.

The playlist.
I always run with my ipod and for races I shuffle through a playlist of songs I haven’t heard hundreds of times in training so as to give me something to think about. Here’s what played on Sunday if you’re interested:

Lines In the Suit 3:47 Spoon Girls Can Tell
Mistake of My Life 3:51 Caedmon's Call Long Line of Leavers
Everlong 4:11 Foo Fighters The Colour And The Shape
Wendy Clear 2:50 Blink-182 Enema of the State
How Indscreet 4:35 Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire Swimming Hour, The
When I Grow Up 3:25 Garbage Version 2.0
Only In Dreams 7:59 Weezer Weezer
Heroes 3:38 David Bowie Changesbowie
Mutt 3:24 Blink-182 Enema of the State
Jump Man 4:22 Buckethead Monsters & Robots
Mayonaise 5:49 Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream
Devil's Haircut 3:14 Beck Odelay
Trying to Pull Myself Away 3:36 Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova Once (Music from the Motion Picture)
Hot for Teacher 4:45 Van Halen 1984
Yard Of Blonde Girls 4:07 Jeff Buckley Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk Your House 4:46 Jimmy Eat World Jimmy Eat World
When The War Came 5:06 The Decemberists The Crane Wife
Why Bother 2:08 Weezer Pinkerton
What You Want 4:02 Caedmon's Call Long Line of Leavers
Limelight 4:24 Rush Moving Pictures
I've Got A Flair 2:52 Fountains Of Wayne Fountains Of Wayne
Flight Of The Passing Fancy 3:52 Squirrel Nut Zippers Hot
Mr. Brightside 3:43 The Killers Hot Fuss
The Boxer 2:49 Me First & the Gimme Gimmes Have Another Ball
The Bends 4:06 Radiohead The Bends
Relative Ways (EP) 4:03 ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead Source Tags & Codes
Then 5:50 Yes Time And A Word
Pounding 4:45 Doves The Last Broadcast
Inner Revolution 3:14 Adrian Belew Inner Revolution
Like A Criminal 3:49 The Sheila Divine New Parade
The Crystal Lake 5:00 Grandaddy The Sophtware Slump
That Was Just Your Life 7:08 Metallica Death Magnetic
Suicide & Redemption 9:58 Metallica Death Magnetic
The Judas Kiss 8:01 Metallica Death Magnetic
Don't Leave Me 2:24 Blink-182 Enema of the State
Have You Ever Seen the Rain? 2:42 Creedence Clearwater Revival Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits
Don't Make Me A Target 3:56 Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
The Gymnast, High Above The Ground 7:13 The Decemberists Her Majesty The Decemberists
Nun Chuka Kata 4:30 Buckethead Monsters & Robots
Cherub Rock 4:58 Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces 3:53 Ben Folds Five Whatever & Ever Amen
Mr. Bonaparte 3:55 The Bears Car Caught Fire
Drop Dead Legs 4:14 Van Halen 1984
The Camera Eye 10:59 Rush Moving Pictures
It Was There That I Saw You 4:02 ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead Source Tags & Codes
You Look So Fine 5:24 Garbage Version 2.0
Smoking Makes You Look Younger (A True Tale of Underage Smoking) 2:31 Smarty Pants Annoyager
Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? 3:49 Prince The Hits/The B-Sides
Spacemilk 3:49 The Sheila Divine New Parade
Bargain 5:34 The Who Who's Next (Remastered)
Snarling Wrath Of Angry Gods (From Dry Humping The American Dream) 4:09 Gutbucket Hear This Now: Cantaloupe Music Sampler
Never Enough 3:43 Adrian Belew Here
Keep Fishin' 2:52 Weezer Maladroit
Killer Queen 3:01 Queen Greatest Hits
War 5:48 Joe Satriani The Extremist
YYZ 4:25 Rush Moving Pictures
Adam's Song 4:10 Blink-182 Enema of the State
The Party Song 2:19 Blink-182 Enema of the State
Quiet 3:42 Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream
Army 3:24 Ben Folds Five The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner
The National Anthem 5:52 Radiohead Kid A
Sister Jack 3:35 Spoon Gimme Fiction

Finally, I come to the big picture stuff--lessons learned and how do I move forward…

After week 13 of training I got Achilles tendonitis, a common overuse injury for runners and as I went to the doctor and multiple physical therapy treatments I obviously had to do some thinking. The big question was “What am I doing here? Why do I run, again?” I easily have two basic answers: “I run and exercise in general to keep my body healthy and functioning well and to keep my soul and mind healthy and functioning well.” I do not run to break my body down.

Marathon training is tough. I said last year that it was the toughest thing I ever tried to do. Training “by the book” is even tougher. Since January I put 452 miles on my feet, sometimes more than 35 miles in a week. For a guy my size, that’s a lot of stress and pounding on my feet and ankles. And week after week after week starts to take its toll.

There are some things I know. I don’t have to run marathons to keep my body in check. I had forgotten that there are distances between 5k and 26.2 miles that people train for. Right now I’m thinking that I’m done with the full marathon distance. My absolute favorite part of Sunday was the opening 10k, jockeying for position in the crowd, feeling awesome and strong and fresh and clipping the miles by. I like that kind of running. I’m not a fan of the walk-run, see-what-I-can-make-myself-endure type of “running.” In training, before I developed the tendonitis, I liked the middle distance tempo runs best. My favorite race of the year is still the Tulsa Run 15k.

So, after I primarily ride my bike for the whole summer,and my tendonitis hopefully disappears, I’m thinking: “no running distances further than a half marathon.” I think my body will thank me in the long run, (no pun intended.)

Thanks for reading all this and thanks to everyone who showed up to cheer me on.

It’s an amazing life.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In case you didn't get an email from me..

Here are some details about Sunday's marathon:

Where do I need to be and when?"
Excellent question! The finish line is at NW 7th and Broadway. As far as
"when"--I am expecting to finish some time between 10:30 AM (pretty much
dream pace) and 11:00 AM (if the south wind is extraordinarily high or a
squall moves in.) But come early to find parking and witness much faster
people than I doing their thing.

Another option is to offer encouragement and support at the 20 mile point
(NW 63rd and Classen.) That's probably the point at which you are most
likely to witness my cussing to myself or screaming "Why, O Lord!" at the
heavens. I should probably be reaching that point around 9:30 or 9:45.
However, don't be offended if I don't recognize you on the sidelines at that
point, for I will probably be seeing double or distracted by the sight of
the demons.

While I MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH prefer your physical presence, there are other
methods of keeping track of my progress that morning:

1) You can download an iPhone app here--

2) Go to the marathon website and "Track Your Runner"--


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Please Allow Me To Geek Out With Running Talk...

Since I'm winding down the days before the marathon I thought I would bring in a special guest blogger--a "spglogger," if you will. I'm going to turn this over to my running pal Charlie Neuenschwander to discuss the upcoming week and running in general.

What's your history with running? How and why did you get started?

I started running while in college. At the time, I was taking time off of bike racing (cycling) to compensate for more difficult classes my last two years. When I started noticing my fitness taking a nose dive, I started jogging because it was easy and convenient. It's much easier to throw on shoes for a 30 minute run than lugging a bike and all the clothes around for rides. I ended up really enjoying running, so I simply stuck with it.

I know this last year has not been smooth sailing for you. Talk to me about injuries and coming back from them.

In January of 2009 I ran my first ultramarathon, a 50k (31 mile) trail run put on as a New Year's run by a local ultrarunner. My training leading up to it was less than par for such an event and in the weeks post ultra, I showed symptoms of a stress fracture in my right shin. I took several weeks off (mostly all of Feb) and started running again in March. My naive mind thought I could run the Memorial Marathon with only 8 weeks of prep, which I did and improved my inagural marathon year by about 18 minutes. However, the second or third week after the marathon I started noticing familiar sensations in my shin, this time on the left leg. This injury was slightly more sinister than the last, as every time I thought the injury was healed and began running again it would come back. I repeated this several times over the summer and finally kicked it around September. I learned a lot last year about myself and about being patient. Ever since mid September of 09, I've had the marathon on my mind and have basically been training soley for the marathon all this time. I wanted to make sure I had a very good foundation before I started adding the long runs.

This will be your third time to run the Memorial Marathon and I know you're out for a PR (personal record) this year. What have you done differently, as far as training, to pursue that goal?

I think the most obvious aspect when I reflect on my own training is structure. I've never really laid out a "plan." I've always just run a certain distance on any given day based on how I felt. Don't get me wrong, I still run what I run each day based on how all systems are operating, but this year I've laid out a schedule that I can refer to which reminds me, for example, "this week I need to start intervals, four weeks from now I'll do tempo runs." Having a sort of structure like that mapped out on paper that I can visually see, has kept me on track and the marathon hasn't snuck up on me. We are less than two weeks out and this year I'm not saying "oh I should have done more intervals, or tempo runs, etc." But I still don't get too wrapped up in schedules. Last weekend for example, I missed my last long run because my one-year-old son was sick. I am a family man and have a day job and those things come first. I find that if I worry too much about sticking to a schedule, I'll subconciously be putting running before my family and I don't ever want to do that. I can't help the things that happen outside of running and as a result I have to always stay flexible.

I know you're a big fan of trail running. Do you think those trail miles aid in any way with a road marathon?

Absolutely. There is definitley more work involved in trail running versus road running. 30% extra maybe? I don't remember where I read or who wrote the article that compared the two forms of the sport but there is a quantified measurement out there somwhere. Your heart rate is usually higher even at slower paces because of terrain variation with twists, turns, up and down hills. Muscles in your legs that may go unnoticed during a road run will get their own workout on trails. I generally like to run trails every once in a while just to keep the joints and bones in check and have a break from all the repetitive motions that goes with road running. And its a lot more fun!

One thing I've noticed when preparing for an endurance event is how high my grocery bill gets as I'm pretty much always trying to take in enough calories to keep the engine going! What's your strategy as far as nutrition, both in general and during the race itself? Are you a GU man during the race?

I suppose this is where my answer would be expected to be some profoud, inspiring insight but alas, I really don't pay much attention to my diet. I try to keep some obvious points in mind, though, like a diet of burgers five days per week is not going to yield the best physiological results. I try to eat a mixture of good meats like chicken and fish with a steak here and there. Veggies and fruits I eat when I can and I go for fresh over canned produce. Carbs are mostly in the form of breads and pastas. The last few weeks leading up to a large race like a marathon, I'll shy away from refined sugar (sodas, candy), which to me makes a post marathon Dr Pepper a nice treat. Flexibility here as well as the training schedule I feel keeps me well -rounded. I'll have a burger any day of the week (but not twice in the same week) and I'll take my family out for ice cream if they want to go. I decided a long time ago that I wasn't going to make any diet of mine, the diet of the rest of my family. I'm not going to be the stick in the mud that stays home while family or friends are going out for pizza. These are the simple things in life that make life fullfilling and may be indulgences but in moderation really don't have much of an effect on one's running. And yes, I am a GU man during the race, and water. I will try something this year that I've been training with and as the race gets into the longer miles, I'll have my folks (who always come to the race) have a bottle of Pedialyte ready about midway through. Yes, the same stuff they give to dehydrated children. Have you ever read the ingredients list? Low calorie, but full of all the stuff that is essential to keeping the muscles in working order. I'm going to see if it makes a difference on race day.

In my experience of physical activity so far, I am starting to realize that there are some hidden ratios at work, (i.e. weight/power) The one devilish ratio involved in the marathon is speed over distance, or in other words, pace. Some people can run fast for short distances. Some people can run slower for a much longer distance. The ideal marathoner can do both. Is this concept as maddening to you as it is to me?

Honestly, I don't get too worried about numbers. I know this probably sounds a little contradictory of a competitive runner but its true. Yes, I do pay attention to what I am doing in training, and what my numbers are. I know that in prep for a marathon you need to run tempo runs as part of your regimen. These I try to run at my goal pace for the marathon and therefore the numbers are important. But ultimately on race day, there are so many external factors that you have no control over (the Oklahoma wind for example) that I show up to the start line on race day with the attitude that I will simply run the best I can on this particular day. As far as short versus long distances, I believe in well-roundedness. I would rather be average at both than to be a self-proclaimed specialist. I practice this by participating in shorter distance races as well as the longer stuff.

Here's a question I get asked a lot…what is in your head as you're running? Do you find that there is a difference in your thoughts as you're training vs. a race situation?

I really don't know what goes through my head. Some things I remember, most I don't. I've probably cured cancer but I don't know it. My thoughts during a run are kind of like dreams. I come back to conciousness not really knowing what I was thinking but some bits and pieces I can recall. Sometimes my mind starts playing loops of songs or shows, movies, etc. I think it may have to do with a rhythmic pairing to my cadence or something. More recently that I recall, my mind kept playing about a 30 second clip from the movie Apollo 13. My mind just put this scene on a loop and it repeated itself for a long time until I started thinking about something else, like the events of the previous day or what tasks lay ahead. But Apollo 13? I haven't seen that movie in probably a decade! Beats the crap out of me where that came from. But it got me through a tough run.

What are your plans for next week to prepare mind and body for the rigors of going 26.2 miles? Got any rituals or superstitious activities?

I usually have pizza and beer the night before. A bit unorthodox, I'm sure, but the first time I ever ran a marathon was a Sunday morning where I just simply went out and ran 26 miles to see if I could. The night before that glorious adventure I was at Sauced with some friends eating pizza and having a finely crafted beer when I made the proclamation "I'm going to run a marathon tomorrow." A month later, I ran my first "official" marathon at OKC. So, pizza and beer are sort of a personal tradition, but I wouldn't venture so far to call it a superstition or ritual.

Finally, what are your plans beyond the marathon?

I'm sort of treating this year's marathon as a stepping stone to my next goal for the year and that is to run a 50 mile ultra. Assuming I make it through the next week and a half and the marathon without injury, that is the next large thing on the calendar. I'm concurrently participating with a group that is attempting to run 60 hours in 60 days (which is harder than it sounds), and that is a good motivator to not become too comfortable in a recovery period post marathon, especially since we are already about two weeks into the ordeal. I also have plans to do a couple short distance races, a 5k (possible) and for sure a 10k in June. Long term plans are to run a timed ultra in October in which I will run either a 12- or 24- hour event but I haven't decided which one I want to tackle.

Thanks, Charlie and good luck in the race, pal!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Two Things

Wow. Long time no type.
If you’re still with me, I’ve got two things to tell you about.

1) The training for this year’s Memorial Marathon has taken up the bulk of my energy, both mental and physical.

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes on how you train your body and mind for one of these things. There is one day of every week where you run a “long” distance. The first long run of the 17-week schedule was 8 miles, I think, and it generally builds up from there to, usually 20 miles. Then there are shorter runs during the week to keep you strong and build your endurance and speed, etc.

My training suffered a setback right after I did my 19 mile week. After that run I developed tendonitis in my Achilles tendon. This is a pretty common injury for runners and for me, has proven to be more of a lingering nuisance rather than unbearable pain.

While developing this condition so late in the game sucks, it’s also not a dealbreaker for me. I’ve put way too much work in to call it off. It’s an injury I CAN run on—YES I HAVE gotten clearance from my doctor, (who is also a runner), and two days ago I finished the hardest run of the whole program, the 20 miler. It wasn’t pretty the last 4 miles or so, but I got it done on a windy, warm day.

Now, to set myself up for a marathon that is enjoyable, not just something I can suffer through, I have begun physical therapy, (which is wonderful) and am being very careful and intentional the next couple of weeks.

Sidenote: It becomes increasingly apparent to me that, through this whole process of losing weight, keeping it off, and adopting healthy behaviors to grab life by the throat, I have somehow become something of an athlete. It’s funny how life works out.

But I am starting to reevaluate some of my goals and assumptions as a runner. There will be more time to stew on and pontificate about that after this goal is completed, however.

Stay tuned over the next few days for more on how YOU can help me out with this next long run and a potential special guest post.

2) I just finished reading Dave Eggers’ book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for the second time. Can I iterate to you how much I love this book? Probably not, but I will try.

This is a mostly true (?) memoir written in a sophisticated, sometimes funny, sometimes inspiring, sometimes “make-you-want-to-cry”-sad, always interesting style. It reads like an EEG, a direct feed of the thoughts of a neo-Romantic poet; a manic-depressive twenty-something guy forced by circumstances to become the guardian of his younger brother.

I have never read a book that makes me want to be a writer more, and I would like to recommend it right now to anyone interested in the art of stringing words and sentences together. So I will.

“I recommend this book to anyone interested in the art of stringing words and sentences together.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Writing Exercise

So my writerly friend Scott came up with a wonderful idea. Take some of your favorite songs and use them as an inspiration or stepping-off point for short stories.

Below is what I came up with. Here's the fun part. Who can tell me what song was my inspiration?

Dear Mom,

I know you’re going to catch hell for this. And that’s not fair, I know. I guess you’ve probably seen the reports over and over ad nauseum by this point. I’m the one they’re dragging off. Not you. You shouldn’t have to suffer. When I was walking into that courthouse, some bullshit reporter yelled out, “Why’d you do it, Owen?” I just kept walking with my face to the concrete. Acting like I didn’t hear it. But I heard it. I acted blank and like I wasn’t present. But I was.

The truth is- I couldn’t believe the question. Did that jackass of a reporter really expect me to answer? Did he really expect me to stop amidst the crowd and cacophony- the noise and rushing- and talk? Did he think I would stand there and deliver some pithy little sound bite for him and the folks back home? Or some well-reasoned lecture? Like I’m some kind of professor something? What the hell was he thinking? Can you believe people get paid to do that?

Looking back on it, though, he kinda was my first prosecutor. Sitting here with some time on my hands, I really do wonder. I do wonder “why I did it.” It’s not like he was asking for it. Not like he was secretly screwing my wife or something. William Gibson Smith wasn’t anything special. Not deserving or undeserving of any favor or disfavor. He wasn’t asking to die. Not anymore than any of the rest of us, anyway. You know how some guys, though, are just asking for trouble? To get hit? Taken down a notch? They talk like they’re so tough or so smart. Got that bubbly electric blonde or elegant waif on their arm like an advertisement? Those kinds of guys make me question things, not William Smith. The kind of guy with everything handed to him…silver-platter. Job, car, woman, smiling friends. Those are the guys that make me question fairness. What’s fair is fair. Isn’t that what they always say? Or All is fair in love and war…Man, that question of fairness…it really claws at me. You know what I mean? It’s like sometimes I can’t sleep because I keep those pounding ideas alive in my head. If no one ever said life is fair, where did I get the idea from? Was it a dream? Did I dream it up? Surely there’s some reality propping that table up, right? I mean, I’m not normally in the business of creating ideas out of mid-air. So surely there’s something to it. Fairness exists somewhere, right? Otherwise we would have had to create it. Creation ex nihilo. We’re all nihilists that way. Creation. Creation. There’s something to it, right? To create. To make order. Structure. To arrange. Breathe life into chaos. Make a living, breathing chaos. Forge it. Give it substance.

Some nights…Man! I just can’t keep all of these ideas at bay. It’s like having your back to the door, pushing with all your weight. Your arms splayed. You groan and grunt and strain. But it’s not enough. I still have the thoughts. They still come out. Still come out. Still.

I wanted to shout when I was in that courtroom. Listening to those dull arguments and propositions by the lawyers and suits, as if I weren’t even there. Not even a bit player in my own drama. I wanted to scream “Do you know who you’re dealing with here? Do you know? I consume whole worlds!”

It’s all right, though. It’s all meaningless, mom. All of it.

I miss you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flight: A Novel Flight: A Novel by Sherman Alexie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is equal parts _Catcher in the Rye_, with its depiction of teen angst and delinquency and _Slaughterhouse Five_ with its time- and personality- jumping protagonist and initial inscription in homage to Vonnegut.

However, unlike his predecessors, Alexie's narrator brings much more redemption by the end of the novel, nearly- and I mean NEARLY- bringing this cynical reader to tears.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

What's In a Name?

Today I learned a lesson about names.

Do you ever wonder how your life, your circumstances, your habits, personality- basically all of the things that make up your reality- would be different if you had a different name? Cara- would you have wound up acting and thinking the same way if your name had been longer? Is ease of pronunciation an aid in getting people to talk to you? What if you had been named "Carolina?" Or Carol?

Christina--aren't you "Chrissy" to some people? And does Chrissy act differently than Christina?

Or Charlie, Steven… we are kindred spirits, I’ll bet. My whole life I have grown up with an ambivalence about my name. No one knew whether I was “Mike” or “Michael.” And consequently, I didn’t know either. I have secretly gotten quite a bit of amusement as I’ve listened to people of my own age group try to avoid making the choice between the two, by calling me “Mr. Stutzman,” “Stutzman,” or, even, rarely, “Mr. Man.” Would a rose called “Steve” or “Charles” smell as sweet?

Of course, I have no answers to these questions, but today this naming business got even weirder for me. Here at work, we have a dry-erase board in our kitchen/conference room and this week’s unspoken, unofficial project has been to write your name and the traditional meaning up there for the office to see.

I went around proclaiming to a few friends that I knew that my name means “He who is like God,” and that no matter how they tried, they shan’t come up with a cooler one than that. And my implication was that, maybe they ought to show me a little respect since I’m like God and all. After all, it’s right there in my name!

(And truly, there have been times in the past when I have literally thought to myself, “I need to try to start living up to my name a little better.)

Well, enter the fact-checker, Lauren. She says, (with a website up at her desk), “Um…this website makes it sound a little different than you said it.” This says it’s like a rhetorical question: ‘Who is like God?’ [Turns out that’s a pretty important question mark at the end.] For the assumption in the Hebrew mind: “no one.” No one is like God.

“Well, shit.” I said, like Dr. Evil in the first Austin Powers movie.


But the more I think about it, the more I like how those ancient Jewish folks thought. Some of my favorite stuff in the Bible is in the Old Testament, the wisdom literature, where G-d is mysterious at times and even belittles the ignorance of his creation. (By the way, anybody else think it’s cool how Jewish folks approach even the name of their creator with reverence and the fear of even writing it all the way out?)

Think of the end of Job. G-d says “Were you here when I made all of this? I created the earth and sky and heavens, the waters, and sea monsters. I don’t remember seeing you here…” That’s my own very scholarly translation by sheer power of memory.

I’m not sure why I like it when humans are put in their place and we discover that our place isn’t as high up as we might have presumed or would have preferred. It’s like watching the First Place Apple Pie baker at the county fair finding out that there is a ribbon even better than the blue ribbon. Turns out there is a .5 or even a Zero place ribbon and it’s a most beautiful color, one like we’ve never even seen before!

All the sad baker can do at that point is sit on the stage and eat their apple pie in humble resignation.

After all, “Who is like God?”

I can live with my name.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ohhh We're Halfway There WOAH OH!!

Yesterday morning marked the beginning of week 9 of a 16-week marathon training plan. Halfway there! And friends, let me tell you- I am feeling AWESOME right now with my running, going farther faster than ever! Saturday morning was my fastest long run to date. 15 hilly miles at Edmond’s lovely Mitch Park. Have you ever been there? It’s a really nice park. I’m thinking I should log more miles there and add it to the biking rotation in the spring and summer.

Friends, I have a dream and you can definitely help me realize it. My dream is this: I finish the marathon at my goal pace, and am greeted by a swarm of friends and well-wishers. That’s where you come in. Can you come watch me finish?

The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is on Sunday April 25. It’s the 10th annual staging of this race so it’s sure to be surrounded by hubbub. Why don’t you go ahead and mark it on your calendar?

I know, I know. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. But maybe God and your priest or pastor will grant you special dispensation to miss. Here’s what you could do. Just go to church every day, even Mondays, between now and the marathon to stockpile some good will.

I am working REALLY hard right now. I don’t usually let on very much because it’s not polite and it’s boring to listen to and I enjoy the process anyway. But it would be nice to celebrate at the official end of the means with everyone I know.

As you were…

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Words, Words, Words

Sorry it’s been awhile since my last post, my darlings. I’ve been consumed by a thought:

Should I write stuff for the blog just to write and give people something to read?

How long can I/could I write with nothing to say? By which I mean, “I wonder how long I could say things in typed form but not really have any meaning beneath the words.” Or to put it another way: does there really have to be a message beneath the medium?

I can come up with words to write, form sentences and string together remote, disparate thoughts until the cows come home. I can do all that and still not really communicate anything.

It would be akin to window dressing. You know how those tiny old clothing and vintage shops in the small town of our collective unconscious have those antique-looking mannequins that are just an impaled torso with no arms or head? It would be like that. Yeah, imagine one of those dummy torsos supporting a velvet shirt or chemise or “blouse” or “top” or whatever feminine word you use to describe it. The oddity of it, the novel mystery of the little anachronistic garment might draw you into the shop. But then, once you cross the threshold into the curious little room, you would be horribly disappointed by “instead ofs.” Instead of coins from faraway places, or dusty, varnishey-smelling hutches and sturdy two-ton colonial writing desks or ancient farming tools from the Depression. Instead of a wonderfully idiosyncratic, graying shop owner. Instead of ancient European postcards and unmbrellas. Instead of toys and papers and books and copper thises and avant-garde, 60s plastic thats. Instead of all of these bohemian, well-used and forgotten, weathered treasures to think about and admire. Instead of all of that, you would be greeted by a blank, cold, nothingness.

An empty, shop-shaped void.

Or is the empty space a curio of its own?

And that’s really the interesting thing about expectations, isn’t it? Does the person with no expectations also experience no frustrations? Walk into that shop with no assumptions about what you will find and…is the void a disappointment? All style and no substance? All icing and no cake? Form but no function? All sizzle, no steak?

Also with expectations and lack thereof, there is a converse problem. The person who rolls through life expecting nothing, harboring no dreams or hopes, never gets to experience the thrill of something wonderful in his or her head coming true. For there was never "something wonderful" there in the first place.

Turns out I have a bunch of words I can use to say nothing.

Fooled ya.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another Blog I've Started...

Here's a little secret: One of my favorite things to do is cook. Consequently, one of my other favorite things to do is EAT. So, over there on the right hand column you'll see a link to Feast Your Eyes.

That's where I'll be letting you know "what's cooking?"

I wouldn't recommend going over there if you're hungry, however.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

I’ve been reading about the internet a little bit as of late. It’s not as if I set out to. That’s just what was next in line on my “books-to-read” list and I like working my way through projects like that.

A memory occurred to me as I was reading about the rise of “Internet 2.0…”

I was in college in the late 90s, early 2000s. In my Mass Communication class our final assignment was to devise a theoretical message and a way of delivering the message to a mass audience.

My original idea was to create a news service, similar to AP (Associated Press.) However, my proposed news service would only distribute info about me, what was going on in my world. I probably proposed to call it MSP (Mike Stutzman Press.) While it was purely tongue-in-cheek, my teacher wouldn’t let me do it for my final. “There ought to be some relevance to the message you are communicating on a mass scale.”

Well, how times have changed since then, huh?

That’s right, everybody. I thought of the idea behind Twitter and even this blog ten years ago.

Compensation please…

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

That's All He Wrote

And that down there is the last I've written in the "Pure, Simple, Fantastic" vein. Like I said, it was really more an exercise in the "write SOMETHING, no matter what"- school of thought. I've discovered over time that I'm more of a "write when the inspiration strikes" type of guy.

Thanks for reading.

Maybe some day we'll all find out what REALLY happened to Duke and Rock n' Roll...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pure, Simple, Fantastic Part IX


The eight-legged creature reached out with two tentacles and delivered the two foreigners from the hopelessness of finding the ocean bottom and a potential eternal resting place. The octopus snatched them out of mid-water and began to pass them from limb to limb to limb to limb to limb to limb like the most skilled juggler of all time, before attempting to feed the plastic men to itself. However, either the taste or the texture of the two misshapen creatures was unpalatable. The humpy beast spit them out and quickly darted back to the anonymous depths, leaving behind a puff of ink to make for a getaway.

As Duke and Rock n’ Roll again sank farther into the blackness they were floating in space, expansive, with no up or down, a great thunderous churning could be heard, parting the water like a giant oil tanker. But it was no oil tanker. This was a living, breathing beast. Lonely, calling out through the void in low moans. The whale, mistaken by ancient sailors as a sea monster, defied gravity as its heavy, barnacled body slowly worked through the water. Eyes closed, he nearly slept as he traveled, no fear of obstacles for miles all around. Mouth open, he sucked up all surrounding insignificant life, a vacuum with hardened, wrinkled skin. Duke’s body and Rock n’ Roll were captured by the direct flow into the whale’s mouth and were soon in slimy, compact world of undigested shrimp and kelp and briny, tiny microscopic cities of translucent non-imals.

But they were not long in the belly of the beast, for the gastroesophageal systems of whales had not evolved to digest plastics and the two commandoes were expelled out of the beast’s mouth like tiny water-to-water missiles. The giant leviathan made a grunting noise similar to an old man recovering from a sneeze and slowly swam away to its lonely, slow-moving future.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Against the Machine

Just got done reading Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel. (Unfortunately the bulk of the book was about how we, the "Internet 2.0" culture, are becoming less human and not about "being human.")Anyway, his last paragraph is a real doozy and pretty much sums up the author's dark predictions for the internet's effect on humankind and very neatly sums up what's at stake:

There is only one person in the world who connects with us entirely, antiseptically, and without fear of judgment or rejection. He is at the very heart of our desire for convenience. He is at the other end of our wrist and finger. The less he needs the actual presence of other people, the more he will depend on goods and services to keep him company and populate his isolation. The more distracted and busy his isolation, the more he will measure people by their capacity to please him, or to gratify him without "getting in his face." For the only face he can bear will be his own.

Here's to seeing other people as ends in themselves, rather than as means to our ends!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Other than the intriguing subject matter, a real strength of this book is the author's literary style. Weiner is very conversational and humorous at times, but in that unique way that a trained journalist is able... It was a pleasure to read his adventures.

Equally uncomfortable with the "happiness" and positive psychology movements, Weiner doesn't get bogged down in the surprising amount of available research and science and instead presents a (well-informed) regular person's search for what exactly "happiness" is and why it's so elusive and seemingly counterintuitive. For instance, great happiness and misery can be found in similar environments throughout the world--poverty and affluence are no guarantees of either end of the spectrum.

And the author's struggle to face these kinds of contradictions, along with a slew of others, are exactly what made his voice trustworthy and interesting for me.

Part travel book, part soft philosophy book, all worth the couple of days it took to read it!

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pure, Simple, Fantastic Part VIII.


And then the crabs came.

They descended upon the action figures like the Americans on Normandy. “Peter and the Wolf”-type music played in the distance as they shuffled about, claws and pinchers clicking. A group of three smaller crabs were linked like a crustacean chain, straining together and pulling in the same direction to remove Rock n’ Roll from his sandy grave as if they were either playing tug of war with his lower torso or saving him from falling in ice, Boy Scout-style. Meanwhile two larger crabs had managed to separate Duke’s head from his body and were bandying it about, applying an impromptu game of midnight catch with a face of chiseled, handsome good looks.

Just as the small group was able to extricate Rock n’ Roll and set him right with the world again, a great crashing wave came from nowhere, sending the whole scene into a wash of tornadoed chaos- crabs flying every which way into the sea, Rock n’ Roll and the headless Duke strewn into the ocean as well, powerless, determined by an uncaring universe.

Farther and farther the tide took the two out to the sea. They had been jettisoned out at least a mile before they began to sink in slow, slow motion amongst the bubbles and darkness. They tumbled an flipped in the inky wetness until a fast, flitting shape appeared on the periphery, jetting this way and that-- a mysterious, graceful shape.