Monday, October 27
For every one step forward seems three step backwards, but then progress is the laughable invention of ego and vanity, sober fools. And of which I've apparently no need. But I digress, even as I regress.
The disappointment in his face, though he can't and won't say it, and how these few short years I've fallen. 'Got all your ducks in a row,' she said. Now the ducks just smell – onions?. And it's all a moot point in building wooden bridges over flaming rivers, and these links are alive with passion, sure; but wounded passions know so much less than healthy, make better moats and spillways besides. Choices, choices, and more choices; never was I real sure of the right, but some wayward paths swing farther from the fulcrum, wind further from any sort of peace than others, and now a bent achilles, ruptured maybe. The longest between runs in a full five years -- eight days! -- going for two weeks, at least, but damn if teens' senseless deaths aren't themselves plenty of reason to run away, far and fast (5:22 and 5:42 and 5:26 and that's feeling fat1, fuckers!). Of course, head still couldn't be much more off, joints stripped and spun.
Anyways, we're brewing beer, true, but even if everyone seems to know I prefer the hard stuff, it'd be some great joke, except for never finding the damn punch line, not even in drinking whiskey out of wine glasses (classy with a capital 'C'). Still, some standards: no wine in nalgene bottles.2
The point, of course, being a dull one because these senses, ever less than sharp, just want some relief. Not sure what happened to the rusty pin, but it's pulled, the hinge off, and so I'll flap. what else is a tattered flag to years long lost to do?
1. No comments about how not-fat I am. My body has run enough miles to know the swing of every pound. and I know the subtleties. I ran heavy today. What I get for a week away, anyways.
2. Except maybe on cold Saturdays or at an outdoor hockey game. Though there are surely easier ways to brave a Minnesota winter. Whiskey comes to mind.
Image: Tattered Flag, Drew Waters
Friday, October 24
And so it's Friday, finally, the end of a week that never ended and took fewer breaths than most runs. An achilles injury having reduced my miles to, well, none, I find no good escape, sleeping less well every night further from the miles, and yet the bottle doesn't beckon. Perhaps a sign of larger changes, perhaps the result of these well-worn hours, the work that kept piling on as the days progressed.
Poor planning this, tests for every class, and three versions each (a hearty cheer for differentiation, that!), and units to sketch out, test-prep activities and vocab packets and objective sheets for the next chapter. Not to mention class -- four hours Tuesday, four hours Thursday. An open house Thursday. Homework for class Wednesday. Meetings Monday and Wednesday. Coffee for dinner three nights out of four, Wednesday the lone exception.
I cannot coast, having never learned how. All-in, all the time, or completely apathetic -- and that no longer an option, an option I refused the day I decided to forget everything I'd left behind. Alternative school, and so many other teachers thinking I have it easy, knowing how I could coast. These are the forgotten, the lost, already been counted as dropouts. Zero success for expectations, and anything above a happy bonus.
Awake -- half the night, if not more. Not a single night more than four hours in number, and Wednesday none. Perhaps better not running, given the fatigue, rambling drunk without the rum, at least before the caffeine and shaking fingers. And yet, once they trickle in -- Showtime! Lo-fi magic, this, zenmaster patient calm collected, no matter how goddamn dumb the question. jesus, come to class once in a while kid. pay attention. how did you make this far even? how much the urge to yell. Instead, from the beginning, again, and again, and again. We'll do it as many times as it takes. Again, I say. Slowly, some of them beginning to believe it. Slowly, some of them remembering how to believe in themselves, forgetting they're supposed to hate me, forgetting they're supposed to fail. Slowly, some of them opening up, trusting, and spilling out the wrenching truths a heart wishes it was deaf for.
goddamn i never... so this is what a broken life really is, brother shot and killed in Detroit, mom alcoholic meth-head, stepdad abusive (sexually?, allegations, then charges, only to be dropped), dad in jail, living off friends' couches and on the street, some nights spent entirely on the bus, some days at school in the same clothes as the day before (if attending two days in a row -- celebrate!), and everyone wise enough to say nothing about certain sad truths. 'Tough life' fellow teachers say, but that isn't any kind of summary, a piss-poor synopsis. This is hell they're in, and where do you begin when you can't even imagine an ice cube for relief? When, as a poor black man, you're voting for McCain because your life is so overrun with fear that you're convinced a vote for Obama is a vote for dead man -- so sure he'll be assassinated you'd rather vote for a man you hate, a man, you say with a shrug, doesn't give a damn about a ghetto nigga. No emotion, simple statement.
I'm only tired. They're half-dead, fighting hard to stay numb because it's even harder to feel.
Who am I to complain about this kind of week? The kind of week where spilling rice on the floor at one thirty, just beginning another late night, is only reason to laugh (sleep deprived, the volcano I make a fun visual, some relief for this distracted mind). I won't miss that rice, and I won't be woken by a grumbling stomach, no matter how poor my dinners may have recently been.
I'd claim the challenge is the reason is the thrill is the reward, that this is all part of my complete inability to moderate -- in anything -- at least in part, but I'd be a liar. No one ever properly explains how hard it is to watch the forgotten, the nameless, the hopeless -- and see their futures slip away. It isn't a fight I can win, myself too small, one against too many. I know this, am aware I cannot save, can only help the token few, nothing beyond the so-slim percent that make it. But damn if I won't try. And damn if I won't find ways to sustain myself on those few small successes. Frankly, I have to, or I wouldn't get up in the morning.
I'd lie if I said I didn't hold my students to high standards. To pass my classes, they have to prove themselves. Just showing up won't do it. I refuse to pity them, to accept they have farther to go. If anything, the road ahead of them is only a reason to hold them to a higher standard. They know they have to do more to get to the same place. It's damn near impossible to get an A.
Yet there are several students that have them, as if to spite those who do not put in the work. These are the students that challenge the chronically missing, rip into the ever absent, far harder on each other than I am on them. But it's good, borne out of genuine hope for their peers. They know the odds aren't good. Only the most determined get out.
I'm amazed at those that still press on. My heart breaks new every day for so many of my students: those that won't, that don't, have already accepted defeat because they're more afraid of failing at one more thing. The only miracles I believe in are on the smallest scale. And most days I find at least one. There may be zero expectations for success, but those aren't expectations we have to fulfill. And with their help, I'm doing my damnedest to make sure we don't.
Artwork: Anya Gerasimchuk
Sunday, October 19
Just words, rattling through a numb void, they dance a jig inside a shivering skull. Alone with so many thoughts, a bank sign saying twenty-eight degrees, and yet I hurtle through the pre-dawn fog as fast as these legs will allow, as if to offer the wind chill a giant fuck you. I remember now why I refuse to to bike when below freezing.
The weather slowly wearing down even my obstinate will, just before sunrise I find myself in Wyoming, Minnesota, a cozy little coffee shop, time, and these haphazard thought trains for companions. An hour and a half later, though still chilled, the time has come to continue on, and so it goes, miles piling up on miles, silence on top of silence. Miles of trials, trials of miles, and the solitary, meditative experience my only wealth worth accumulating. Letters come and go, but these sights and smells linger, still lodged in the corners of my worn memory.
Thursday, then, to sum: two-hundred-and-forty miles, sixteen hours, and bones chilled through, never once even near warm. The clouds unceasing, yet few more perfect days have I known, as alone as the Midwest has ever found me, and the solitude my dearest friend yet. The first person seen outside: well north of Hinkley, just less than forty miles from Duluth, and then not again until Carlton, another twenty-five miles. The circles I travel: St Paul to Northfield, back north to Duluth. Sleep, of course, is non-existent, Wednesday having found me not wanting sleep, productivity deemed more important before the days of travel. Poor choices I may make, but it cannot be said I avoid the consequences so reaped, if not even perversely delighting in them.
There are, of course, tales such choices spin, but so much stranger is fact than fiction that you'd find them impossible. Still, a sampling: three miles spent chasing waddling turkeys; the lonesome sight of a spectacular twelve-point buck kept in a pen; a homeless man telling of a dog who attacked at mention of "lassie;" free food stumbled upon while searching for dinner, courtesy an environmental group (and drinks, of course); yoga on top of a very large rock, looking over both Minnesota and Wisconsin. If there is indeed a limited quantity of beauty in the world, then I am surely guilty of theft, having taken far more than my allotted share. The interconnection thing is definitely for real... but it's also nothing special, and I am perfectly content with this.
Friday, the follow-up: but what kind of encore would ever be appropriate for such a day, sun shining and the air so much warmer, and the trail not nearly so deserted? In my case, sleep in, get a late start, sweat alcohol the first fifteen or twenty, then get a good rhythm just in time to battle the accumulating protests of a fading body. From right Achilles to knees and still the Achilles... finally, phone calls made. Then, waiting in an empty parking lot, a ride home, the last forty miles an after-thought – but not until after pacing a group of road bikes through a solid thirty miles, Finlayson to just outside Rush City. Still this concession is finally some semblance of wisdom: knowing not to push through, that there's nothing left to prove. For now, I've done enough. There's always next weekend...
Thoughts coming together, a realization: these journeys are the fruit of my independence, no longer cuffed by your worries and anxieties, these plans on a whim and wish for no other reason than adventure and experience. This is the fruit of your absence, love, for you did constrain such wildness; recklessness, you called it, never accepting the cost of sanity as I bought it, paid in full as only I knew how. But then, you never could have understood; safety your escape, and risk mine.
Not that I complained – nor would've I ever – and my body so much less broken for it. But that safe existence, comfortable as it was, enjoyable as it was – that was not my whole, and never could have been, protecting you as I was from this need to chase down ever-larger adventures. I kept you from those sleepless nights of anxious worries, the nights I'd seen so many waste on me. My needs cannot be corralled by reason, I know this, but for you I tried, and in doing so, misunderstood freedom, confusing responsibility and unnecessary restraint. You are gone, love, but I won't choose another, finding in solitude a better, more natural promise.
And so the weekend gathers her folds, pulls me in close. Wrapped in miles meant for a friend, not kept on account of this aching heel, the squishy and swollen redness I cannot stop playing with1; time drunk in beers both quaffed and brewed; memories and futures passed in dreams and hopes and silences shared between friends who don't always need the words.
Someday I'll get some clip pedals, perhaps, in hopes of saving myself some work. And someday I'll ride a nice bike, perhaps, in hopes of a expedited journey. Until then, I take my chances. Regardless speed or style, the journey is the expression, the adventure, the lesson; I've fallen inside so many inequalities as to have forgotten the symbols. And I don't mind in the least. Life is short, indeed; a year is a lifetime.
1. Still I cannot help myself, and log an 'easy' five, three barefoot. Ill-advised, yes. Enjoyed, just the same. A carefree existence, this one.
Thursday, October 16
More Friday night miles, a cool dusk and little traffic, the sweet fall breeze rustles in the trees and leaves cascade down around me. Eighteen becomes twenty-five becomes thirty-five, and after all the adventures, turns out I'm not so late after all. Tacos and wine and Kindergarten Cop, and we are all three a peculiar brand of ridiculous, memories of Idaho and photos of England and tales of lives gone astray; for them, not as much so their own, but for me, certainly. The puppy who lost his way, this one, perhaps.
And what delightful mix of company it is when pages are reduced to paragraphs and paragraphs to sentences, and finally sentences to small phrases, little bites of conversation the perfect trigger for laughter or a sigh. There are always the memories, and in memories everything simplifies, so of course it's to the memories we turn.
I'm getting too old for four o'clock nights, and, in my years, so much better at four o'clock mornings, though still undisciplined to do much about the fatigue of either. So, of course, another weekend closes; yet again, I've not enough sleep tallied up. Jars of tomatoes and beans, bags of onions and potatoes, though, stacked in the pantry – if not sleep, at least I have plenty of food.
Another day brings beer and brats and better fellows than I, the company sailor's native tongues and ribald revelry, a German alt bier, more laughter than miles – no small feat in these loaded days. The next, still more beer, though this we brew – a thick and hearty porter, just in time for December – as we nurse our chili and spread tall tales. Swallowed by a company of angels, our laughter is hearty and full as a good beerman's gut. We are the contexts we put ourselves in, or our power is in the context, he said (I forget quite which), summarizing Foucault (and Foucault you, and you, and you!), and this one is bawdy, half-drunk.
A damn near perfect weekend all around, far as I can tell, minus the morning that inevitably follows and the lack of shut-eye it'll bring, but still, laying awake in the darkness, something eats at my elbow, just a bit off the mark. And I'm beginning to realize that maybe I'll never shake some feelings, thinking how very much you would have enjoyed these evenings, the revelry. But then, maybe not. Even present, you were always somewhere else, untouchable, too fragile to close the gaps. Some strings are better let untied.
So days pile up, full of frustrated students and cussed out exercises, full of math and math and more math, always a lesson plan, always more homework, and now nearly a quarter complete. As if half-mad, I can't help laughing. The sun is shining, mostly, and the air is clear, mostly, and such joy dances in these autumn days, the joy of leaves turning and apple cider and bike trails meander, lazy and full. A long weekend ahead, and, having just begun, it looks again to be perfect.
Perfect in the way of miles on the road, lost in the near-complete silence of a still-dark morning and the small skirring1 of two discs on pavement, over and over and over. Perfect in the loneliness, perfect in the stars, perfect in the possibilities of the morning ahead. Perfect – in the bite the air takes, crisp but not quite Minnesota cold. Perfect in the adventure of four-hundred miles, perfect in the pursuit of ever greater limits, perfect in the escape. Especially the escape. Perfect on the company chosen for bookends, a debate and laughter for a start, the brewing of yet more beer and flurries of laughter snowing down for an end. Perfect – in the way that only two batches of beer in two weekends can be. Perfect in the way only a fistful of pomegranate can be. Not perfect as I once thought of us, but perfectly in my (relatively) complete control, and realizing that perhaps that's better.
My life is a well, deep and plentiful as often as deep and dry, it seems. In these full weeks of plenty, I rejoice and am sated. Insatiable so often your word to describe me, but what was once an unpleasant memory only makes me smile now. You were right about the insatiable, of course – just wrong about who. The miles have returned my eyes, even as IT Band tightens and I stumble through the dark morning miles.
And this morning: full with eggs and coffee and bagels and juice, bike loaded and ready, I let so many thoughts drift, easy flakes adrift the snows to come in months ahead. Now, the road is clear and waiting – and hours away, the dawn. Beyond, Duluth. Fortunes await.
Artwork: Frederick J LeBlanc, Placid Waters I
1. Thanks, Kat, for a word I'd long forgotten how to love.
Wednesday, October 8
46 degrees cold and rainy, shorts and sandals and goosepricked flesh, yet sluicing through the night could be no less perfect, nose and toes numb and heart warm, idle chatter (too young! too young!) a gentle fire like good whiskey.
This, of course, before getting doored (a dooring? would-be driver and I, debating semantics like old friends) – my first, but even after bouncing a tired jaw off slick pavement, smiling. A joy in hardship and detours, maybe. This morning finding me tender, but as of yet unmarked. Wednesday no less, hump day.
These past weeks I've let my mileage drift, falling low and fast. In theory, I'm doing less. Really, I'm giving more – just passing fewer hours. Fewer footfalls, perhaps, but more sleep, and also more words: to you, to her, to the void – more. As before, few worth preserving.
Still, projects persevere, if only for want of attention, too stubborn for attrition. No matter – words hardly a cure to seek, no more than whiskey, no more than miles. There is only time. Only time and miles; time and miles and you; another cup of coffee brewing and these words spilling out, messy ink on soggy pages (oh, rain...), and the rain still falling. Beautiful and cold and dark and I do not see it. I hear it, though, still falling. It'll fall at least until sunrise.
Photograph: Renee Dawson
Monday, October 6
Eighty-eight miles, and my third- or fourth-lowest mileage week of 2008. A codeine addiction would maybe be healthier.
The other night, drinks with a friend, just enough to be contentedly sleepy before the ride home. The fifteen miles on a cool, clear night were, of course, just enough to leave me sober and chilled awake. Somehow these things begin to seem inevitable.
Nights drag on and all the days run together and a sentence is a thought that lies and says its finished.
Getting sick, maybe, I sneeze and sneeze and wonder if I'm not losing at least a little bit of brains with every hard Kleenex-filling blow. (Memory: how do you make a tissue dance? You put a little boogie in it.)
More lessons to plan, but with twenty percent attendance, what's really the point? It'll all get ad-libbed later anyways.
Madcap escape from another hellish day, running hard to run harder, and the last mile a four-fifty-eight. I've still got it, legs twitching, dry-heaving in a heap across the sidewalk. Sometimes the things that feel most right are also the things that feel most wrong. Maybe most times.
Nights drag on and dash away and this soldier – on a stop-and-go rush-hour train to Kansas, or Arkansas, or any of those other sweet-jesus-where-are-we hearts of America – knows that all the days run together. Life is continuity. And continuity is death. And a sentence is a thought that lies and says its finished.
Photograph: Andreas Manessinger, undecided