Sunday, January 16
You should have made me a drunkard
Should have made me a liar
Made me a preacher
With a head full of fire
I'm not much for midnight running, he tells me. Neither am I, I protest, before that very night a liar makes me, and that with a backpack of beverage. Well: it's the dark and shadowed and lonely quiet in which I feel most at home, perhaps. I mean, more at home than just the ever stretching truths. At the shop, talking of running, going on nine (?) years one way and fourteen (!) another. As usual, the constant change. At what derivative am I placated? I don't think there's a math for this.
I'll be home
When hair has fallen out
We'll be home
When it reaches the ground
We'll be home
One of these nights, she says, before I resign myself to these demons... The rest left unsaid, only hinted at, better for both of us that way. Some of us like our demons just fine, I remember, I say. Just fine. For better and for worse. She knows it's true, of course, knows the misadventure plenty well; she finds her solace in sleep and I find mine in miles and the night continues, unmoved. Isn't that always the story? And what care has the night, indifferent, always?
I know nothing was planned, you just can’t help yourself
Some people are so easily shuffled and dealt...
Yeah all I know is all I know is all I know
I’m writing this to you in reverse
To the river I went then, sleep not coming, bottle in hand and the silent, slick night for company. Cloaked in the mist, the lights of the city across bounced unevenly, furtively across the black sheen; I'd my harmonica and these legs and I walked and ran and played and drank, the night swallowing it all, forgetting as quick as it came. A Saturday night, sure, but the town quiet as ghosts, and the rain coming in steady waves. If I was cold and wet, no matter. I'd the fog of my breath and the slushy stillness, and that was enough.
We use up people, use up time
Use up places, we say goodbye
Searching for the crowded hour
We're starting a band. Probably. Maybe. I'm building up a fixed-gear / single-speed flip-flop. Probably. Maybe. I'm finding direction, not moving on again come the end of another school year. Probably. Maybe. Someday it'll all be enough. Probably. Maybe.
Friday, January 14
A week it'd been, a week since last I'd run and cantered and trotted and made the world my own. Sick I'd been, and this absence in my life well on on it's way to becoming another, more intimate sickness, and so it was that I'd abandoned caution and my plans for Proud Mary and so laced and taken off. To the peak I know best I'd intended to go, but well. Ever distracted I am, and so it was that snowshoe trails beckoned, and up the icy slopes I clambered, breath ragged and vision spotty and this heat of the effort such that not long was it before I'd stripped to shorts, a t-shirt. The snowshoe trails begat deer trails begat open white; the sky faded from white-grey to pink to purple, yet upwards I ran. It'd rained in the days before, and so I noted the sloughing slopes (avalanche risk, i thought, distractedly, momentarily; I'd a run to consider, and that alone) even as I continued slicing my shins on the crust with every stride I slammed through. Steadily I climbed, and as the purple gave way to blue-ish black I'd another peak beneath me. Temperatures having plummeted with the runaway sun, I redressed hurriedly; with stiff fingers I headlamped myself and began the descent.
Of course it'd minimal batteries, of course it died. So, then. Through the tarry night I stumbled forth, guided only by my memory - this mental map of the side canyons through which I'd hope of descending - and the flickering fireflies of the river valley behind. Down I clambered, steadily slipping and sliding and crashing, deer trails as best I could estimate, that frozen creek through which I crashed, that stinking (dog?) turd in which I'd placed a (thankfully gloved) palm. And I sat and nearly cried and instead howled at the absent moon and remembered similarly foolish misadventures of years previous; only then did I hear the owl's call slicing the black. "Who-who-who-cooks-for-you?," I called back, remembering those southern Minnesota nights and our calls across the bluff and prairie. Again, he called, and I called, and we shared the night; once more all was well. I found my way, and all was well.
Morning found me all too easily, wide-eyed four-thirty unblinkingly awake. So again, I laced up; again, I ran; again, I remembered the wee hour morning miles of years before. Two hours I added to the week's tally, and if I'd fatigue before, well. I'd forgotten the liveliness of such a hunger, the vibrancy of such a fatigue, how everything's heightened - an awareness second only to that of the runs themselves. This, I think, this is life! This is living! So through the fatigue, the strange fog overlayed on the increased awareness, through it I push. Good god, how on game I am with my students, how light bulbs flicker and minds leap forward. This is the best side of teaching, yes, the very best, and life is good, life is very good.
So, I'll think, some easy miles are in store, maybe a gentle half-hour to work out the kinks and re-hash the day and wind down, except how good my legs'll feel after the first fifteen or twenty minutes, and so again I'll climb and descend and repeat the process, another three hours and near-enough another peak. The last hour I'll remember both most and least, re-discover what it is that both draws and repulses most on these ventures, the peculiar places my mind will find in which to hide and scream and dance and buckle, repeatedly, as if once more in the latter stages of an ultra. I'm a stumbling drunk and my legs are shattered sinew and the snow's falling now as icy bullets, even as the fluff already down blows in billowing drifts, the mountains white skirts all aflutter, dancing in the deepening night. Terrifying and addictive the breakdown is; I've yet to meet a drug that comes near comparison, and ne'er do I hope to, for such a toxin'll be my end. The world's my plaything, and the middle these adventures'll have me as likely invincible as thrashed, such do the miles vacillate in their treatment of me, and so too will the buzz ebb and flow. Ten hours all told I ran in the span of thirty, and well: what else would I expect? Truth: I'd no expectation at all, so long such a run had been; four months it'd been since last I'd run more than two hours.
Other nights, then, the nights I won't run straight into the black: I slept strangely, a disquieted twisting in the night, and out of my uneven slumbers I fell from a tangle of sheets to the floor below, these limbs distressed even by the thought of mobility. Fire ran through me as I rediscovered the many places bruised, battered, broken, remembered anew the bloody and chafed and undone. It'd snowed the whole night through, the hours giving way to fat flakes and the soft pre-dawn glow of fresh powder. The walk in to school, normally a fifteen or twenty minute refresher, was a fifty minute slog; I couldn't have been happier for the cold, the clear crystalline scent of morning. I watched, and I watched: plows and commuters in their metal boxes slip-sliding, clouds dancing across the rocks on slopes above, the soft black fading to a deep blue and then to purple as the sky itself awoke. All of it, all of it was very good.
I'm not sure I know the difference anymore, I told her, middle as I was all these miles, I recognize the cliffs, but not whether I'm nearing a climb to the heavens or an abrupt descent. True it is, that if anything I've grown worse at interpreting some of these signs. Still: equally true it is that I'm yet learning how to sometimes sit on the edge and watch the world wander below, quietly survey the black Columbia snake through the twinkling firefly lives these other nights. And that? That's probably best of all.
Sunday, January 9
I'm gonna leave any minute
See the skyline disappear
"I don't see you as the loner you paint yourself to be," someone told me once, and I've been thinking that through these past weeks, as the year's turned over; on long runs and rides, then in the hours spent weakly sleeping - I've been pondering, as if naming the act with such a verb would lend it more gravity. It's true, I suppose, she's right at least in part: these small spaces there are, moments in which I miss the heaviness of words that are filled less with air and more with sentiment, community, connection. I'm an adrenaline junkie, sure, but it may be more honest to simply say I'm an addict for all that which is felt as much as seen or heard or read. I remember, in a slim moment's pause - the space just so in waking from a dream, not quite sleeping neither quite awake - I remember a conversation had once about swapping skins. As if we were each ugly Christmas sweaters, all the more easily to try the other on - it seems a lifetime ago. But then, it was: a lifetime ago, and that season's well past, besides. The wise men long ago moved on.
Head out of the city
Burn my clothes, bury my fears
Oh, you will never know I was here
So, the New Year: full with sloth and slumber I rang it. The entirety that first day and a half I spent prone - laying, sitting, still, reconstructing, re-remembering. Thankful I was for the shop-closed holiday, how full the weeks'd been, thankful I was for the rest. And then two, three more days full I rested, these hours lost to the lung-racking crud, the illness of every winter before come 'round once again. But in the small pocket pauses I wrote and I read and I slept and slept and slept, then re-read and re-wrote, and by god, what crap it all was! From this tube of thoughts I strung long sticky strings of words, and I squeezed - oh, I did, I did! - but what came came only tired and forced, sad and silent. What came came in a dough more akin a sickly paste, and from it I knew nothing would ever rise and form into being. And so I left it, as the words had left me.
Tell me now, is there difference
Between a shark and a ghost of a shark
I tried to remember what it was like when writing was simply something I did on occasion, a release valve as I felt so inclined, not something I much - if at all - thought about. Something you told me once, still lingering in that space between dreaming and waking: "We're writers... we live in our heads." And our heads live in the words we give others, perhaps; we are our words, and our words are who we are. But, also: I'd never considered myself a writer until you, among others, told me I was.
All I have are secrets and memories of the dark
Rip away the skin, burn my heart
So, words. This friend'd just had a mini-stroke, her blood pressure too high and the stress of her baby too much, and I sat with her and listened to her stories, knowing she was scared and needed a friendly ear, even as I struggled to stifle the yawns, sleep beckoning. I could not have cared much less, actually. "I cringe at people's idiosyncrasies," I remember you saying, "not [having] the patience to parse them... I'm a big, ugly monster." We're not so different, perhaps. Alas? So of course it was only the night after, up far far too late - sure I'd been drinking, but early in the night, at the shop, as it were - and here I am chatting, chatting, about exactly nothing with another friend as friends are wont to do; it's late for me and well into morning for her, and well, the contrast. There's a lesson here, I'm sure, of some sort or another, but damn if I won't learn it. Or not care to look for it. There are worse things than being an asshole.
I'm gonna leave any minute
Another skyline disappears
And as night turned towards morning, and morning towards day, and dreaming towards waking, I wondered if writing was ever a plaything for you as once it was for me, or if you'd always been the serious sort. I suspect the latter, it's true - but then, having also just written it, I know the words themselves'll hardly make it so. Words are, for all their might, still words. And you're right, of course - we live in our heads. Perhaps altogether far too much. Here comes another year.
Sunlight in the mirror
Blinding me all these years...
Oh am I coming back
I'll never leave
Saturday, January 1
It's sixteen miles
To the promised land
And I promise you, I'm doing the best I can
A year ago I wrote I've hoarded change these years and openly I admit that if much has changed since, in the space of the year between, much more has not. Always I've life firmly ensconced in the moment, and though I'll try not to force it - especially with this tendency I've towards one eye forward and one eye back, an eye to wherever time's current'll drift next and an eye lingering on whatever memory the hours have pooled and paused in - well. With such tendencies, perhaps it's better that I force the present, moderation being that thing I know so poorly. If I've a knack for collecting memories and experiences, so too have I knack for forgetting, and fitting it seems how well this past week and the week ahead follow the pattern these past years: one night last week spent in a snow cave, one night this next week likewise will I slumber, frigid as it may be; one night this past week have I forgotten, or will, or... well. You know how I am, how blank some the nights may be.
Now don't fool yourself
Into thinking you're more than a man
Because you'll probably end up dead
And so the days run into the nights and the nights into the days, but all of it full with the living. "You look frostbit," he says, and it may be I somewhat am; he himself is be-glittered and be-glammed, and this it seems, is the world I'm making for myself now, in these moments. We each take our delight in mementos, little gifts of the time just before, and he and I are no exception: he steals memories of his last show, as if the adrenaline of then might power him through the drudge of now; I hold tight yet to the chill of these winter runs and rides and the most recent night spent out, knowing full well how the love of such moments warms these tired bones. Tingly stiff limbs, red red nose and cheeks remind me how I've stolen from the stars what was not mine, drank it in and stored it away where whiskey coursed only moments before and perhaps still courses. These tingly stiff digits remind me of the night I stole away to sleep near enough the summit to imagine myself atop the earth, among this company of stars and only more stars. These still cold fingers and toes still hear only the breeze rustling through bare aspens and snowy-shouldered conifers, punctuated only by the occasional thump of a clump slopping off a overweighted limb. Other, more constant mementos likewise tie me to the ever-living present: the tightness of re-remembering miles laying a cable through my hamstrings; the fatigue that lays heavily at the back of eyelids; the ice that clings to my eyelashes and beard, seeming remnants of those Wisconsin and Iowa and Minnesota winters; the soreness that lingers in my fingers, shoulders, back from all this ski tuning. Most present, perhaps, of all is the hunger I'm retracing in the small spaces behind and beneath these bones, want being the most definitive of these memory trinkets I'm apparently collecting.
I visit these
Mountains with frequency
And I stand here with my arms up
Where there'll be want, so too will there be satisfaction. And it's finally in this past week I've a run in which my body remembered that yes, I am, a runner; this - runner! - is who I most am. It was the first such floating freedom in three months at least, and by god, the joy of such affirmation, how I savored it! I'd already an hour in that morning, and if my ankles were less than thrilled with the endeavor, no matter. Another two hours plus, near enough three, I ran; I drank in the stars and the stars drank in me, and there was only the clear cold beauty of a twelve degree night, only the stark distance that lay between me and the twinkling firefly nights below, our worlds altogether separate even under the same starry heaven. If not quite sliding once more into the insatiable of miles before, at least I was rediscovering hunger's fire; if not chancing upon light and spry, at least I found myself reacquainting with strong and steady. So I climbed on on an all too common empty stomach (eating taking time I'd not yet this day had), remembered what it was to be full and whole with the joy of these miles, to be a simple animal, part a world so unencumbered: of the world below I'd no need, and it'd no need of me. All was silent, save my slight breath and the regularly pattering footfall, and it was good. It was very good.
And some days they last longer than others...
I promise you I'm doing the best I can
So the year near enough closed as it began, this second-to-last night swallowed in the peace of the night miles. The spaces between were littered with reminders of the abuses this tired body's seen, and not just in how much slower I am in rising most mornings. If changes and uncertainties had years now been the norm, I'd taken comfort in familiar brokenness, though in no year had it yet been quite so pronounced. Tallying the miles now, I've hope some trends - from 5294 (2008) to 3107 (2009) to 2212 (2010) - will yet reverse. The year past saw me race drunk only once (and that on skis!), and that the same number as injured competitions; perhaps, the lean figures suggest, I'll learn moderation yet, in some form or another. Of course, numbers and odds in mind, I wouldn't much count on it. This body'll heal as it does; I've ever a knack for finding the whole most in the broken; I'll do as I do, which is to say: of course I'll push on through. As always it is, I'll find that piece of the night to steal away, drink in the stars, and sleep in the snow; the year ahead, I suspect, will be just enough of what came before and just enough of what's never been. That's not too much to ask, is it? No, I don't think so.