Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Super Powers Part Two

So one of the underrated parts of writing a blog comes not in the process of writing it, but in the days that follow. The instances where you get a chance to talk to other people about their takes on the entry, or the idea, or their own experience. In many ways, because of this, writing about "running, as I see it", has actually allowed me more of an opportunity to hear about running, as you see it.

This morning was no exception.

Last night I posted an entry on super powers. It was a quick look at, as one faithful reader put it, "the idea of appreciating really extraordinary characteristics in people and the likelihood that there's something about everyone that someone else needs or appreciates more than they ever could.".

So this very thoughtful response, combined with that of a few others got me thinking a little bit more about this idea that we all have these extraordinary characteristics, these abilities, these super powers that exist in each of us, even if we can't see them for ourselves. And then something else popped into my head, something that I seemed to overlook yesterday as I was writing this blog.

Because it seems for all the thought that I gave this idea of the powers that we have, I neglected to look deeper into the story of just how we got them.

And while I won't ever be confused for a comic book guy, or expert on the origin of super heroes, I do know enough to take note of a small pattern that seems to exist about these caped crusaders that grace the movie screens we pay to watch.

Because if you take the time to look at the stories of how most of these heroes gained their powers, you'll notice the same thing I did. That most of them gained their power and became the heroes they are, not after the warmth of success, but instead from the pits of tragedy.

Spiderman suffering the bite of a mutated spider, and the loss of his uncle. Batman in the wake of his parents murder. Superman after crashing to earth to escape the annihilation of his home planet. Wolverine, the victim of scientific experiments gone wrong.

The list goes on.

And while I feel a tad funny attempting to draw some deep meaningful conclusion from the pages of a comic book, I think, at least in this instance, there is something worth looking at here.

Cause to me, it seems possible that we aren't born with our greatest assets, that we don't gain our greatest abilities or strengths on the easy paths we've taken to success. It seems possible that we gained them during those other points along our journey. The points that lay in between those successes, through the trials, and the struggles.

But then again, maybe that's just what I want to believe.

Maybe it's just what I want to hold on to.

Because a friend who enjoys throwing things back at me, took the question at the end of yesterdays blog, the question of "what super powers you might possess?", and challenged me to answer it about myself.

And while my brain instantly jumped into hyperdrive joke mode, and answered back with deflective responses about my uncanny ability to send images of hairy naked men to unsuspecting victims, I couldn't help but spend a few moments to answer truthfully, if only with the intent of keeping it to myself.

But the answer that I was left with was just that.

That maybe the greatest power I have came from those times in my life when I was at my lowest, when I was anything but powerful. That maybe the greatest thing I have to offer aren't any of the abilities I listed yesterday, the honesty, the unwavering positivity, or the unflinching courage.

That maybe the greatest thing I have to offer is simply the story. The story of the places I've been, the story of the things I have seen, the story of the things I went through and, maybe, above all...

The story of how I made it back to tell it...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Super Powers


So while “Running as I see it”, as a blog centers around running, I’d like to think that it extends beyond this topic. That while this blog seeks to comment on just that, literally, running, as I see it, I’d hope that it actually speaks more about a shared experience that we all have. Because I fundamently believe that running is not life, its merely a small prism of ours that we choose to experience it through.

And because of that, I’d hope, at least somewhere, whether you run or you don’t that this blog is something that anyone can relate to. 

So along that train of thought, one of the commonly touched upon ideas on this blog is this idea that lingers amongst the running community. This idea that that despite how accomplished, or fast as we may be, there always seems to be someone else who is faster. Someone who speeds by us with a minimum of effort, someone for whom this running thing seems to come so easily. 

And we all have that. 

Even the fastest among us still marvels at the Usain Bolts, and Geoffrey Mutais of the world. The marathoners who crank out 4:55 mile paces while their legs seem to barely graze the pavement beneath them. The sprinters who barrel down the length of a track as though propelled by some kind of internal combustion engine. We are in awe of these seemingly super human abilities.

But let’s be honest, this is nothing new to us. 

After all, we’ve been doing it since we were kids. 

Because if you were like me, this began as far back as you can remember. It began on a couch cushion tossed upon a living room carpet, with a blanket wrapped around a crinked neck staring up at a television. And between commercial breaks flickering images of men with long capes flew and fought their way into my heart not only for the heroic nature of their acts, but the manner in which they performed them. 

If you’re like me your early childhood is dotted with love affairs of caped crusaders. Superman and Spiderman, Mighty Mouse and Ninja Turtles. Even a brief stint with a guy named Captain Planet, whom I think Dick Cheney would refer to as an eco-terrorist. 

But regardless, there was something about watching them. Watching them use their super powers, their ability to fly, to repel bullets, even harness the power of the climate (seriously, what was the deal with Captain Planet?). 

It was watching them ride in and save the day, then lying awake in bed, long after the lights have been turned out, wishing that you too had those powers.

Because maybe if I had those powers, if I could fly around the playground at recess, I wouldn’t be so afraid of other things, like raising my hand to read out loud. Because even though we didn’t exactly have a plethora of bad guys and evil doers wreaking havoc at Penn Wynne Elementary, there weren’t many things that could match the fear attached to that teachers finger calling on me to read. And for a boy who swore that everyone else in his class read better and faster, that power to disappear seemed like a great one to have.

But I guess it only takes a few trips back to the places you grew up for you to realize what a different perception we gain after we grow up, how much the world we knew can seem so different. It only takes a few trips into your old Elementary school to wonder how they shrunk those bathroom urinals. It only takes a trip into your neighbors basement, to the place you used to somehow play epic floor hockey matches, to notice you now need to duck just to walk down the staircase. 

And it only took giving that reading out loud thing a few more tries as an adult to realize it wasn’t such a big thing after all. 

But then again, maybe that’s not right. 

Maybe it’s not because those things like reading out loud aren’t so big anymore, maybe it’s just that I’m not so small anymore.

But I guess that begs the question, or at least a review of these super powers I once longed for so badly. Cause one could argue that if everything seemed so larger than life to us when we were so small, then it’s stands to reason that as we grew these super powers didn’t seem so big anymore. 

Which brings me to the point of this blog. 

Which is to say that as I sit here now, as I sit here as a 27 year old male, I find myself wondering if super powers may actually exist. 

That even though I don’t know anyone who can fly, leap tall buildings, or fly faster than a speeding bullet, I do know some people who can do some pretty amazing things. 

A friend who has the power to extract the greatest amount of joy from the simplest of things. A friend who has the power to be there, for seemingly everyone, exactly where you need her to be. A friend who can laugh in the face of just about any challenge, even when he’s shaking inside. A friend who tells the truth even when the lie is so much easier. A Grandmother who can make you feel a smile from a just a memory, as though she were sitting right next to you. And all the people, the countless people who can make me feel loved, without ever needing to say it.

And maybe not everyone would look at these as superhuman powers, but they are pretty super to me.
But all of this begs one more question. 

Because, after all, I doubt any of these people would readily admit to possessing any of these super powers I just listed. But I am guessing that they would see them in others around them.

So I guess the question is…

If you can see super powers in those around you, super powers that they use to change this world for the better, that they can’t see themselves… well, what does that say about you, and the powers you might have to change this world?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I got your commencement right here...

So maybe it's from having too much time on my hands, or maybe it's the Kiurt Vonnegut book I just finished, but I've been thinking a bit about what we as a society must look like to those unfamiliar with it. I'd imagine that aliens looking down at us would have several questions as to just what the fuck we are doing. I'd imagine they would be curious about why we watch fake wrestling matches, why Kansas City is in Missouri, and why they never tell us who actually let the dogs out?

I'm guessing the questioning would last some time, and while it might not come before the review of Baha Men lyrical choices, at some point, these aliens would ask us just what the hell the deal is with these things we call 'graduations'.

And to be honest, who would blame them?

I mean, just look at them. What the hell is the deal with those outfits, the long hot gowns we wear while scheduling them during our warmer months? And don't get me started on the hats.

But beyond that, I think the most perplexing thing to me about these ceremonies is the dynamic that lies within them. That dynamic being that, from my experience, no one really wants to be there. The audience is counting down the minutes before it ends, and the graduates are usually too hung over to care one way or the other what anyone is saying.

Having said that, I am a sucker for a good speech. And from the graduations I have attended there is usually at least one good one.

But if I may, the one issue I frequently have with these speeches is that they are billed incorrectly. Most of them attempt in some way to quantify the accomplishment of graduating while at the same time offering them some advice for their future. The latter portion of which, seems to me, is where they fall short.

For most of the advice I hear imparted at these events tends to be so abstract, or theoretical to have any real value to those listening, especially when that beach ball that was just punched up into the air is so mesmerizingly entertaining.

Now, for this reason, I've decided to give a commencement speech of my own. Well, not a speech per se, but rather a collection of advice. Advice gained from hand won experience, advice I consider to be valuable to the generations that will come after me.

So without further ado, here are the things I think the class of 2012 should know...

- When a waiter asks "Have you ever dined with us before?", always answer "yes", even if you haven't. Trust me, it will save you time. It's not rocket science, it's a menu, you don't need them to explain to you how it works. "You mean to tell me that this list in front of me, are the things I CAN order? So these are the things you DO have?"

- The best way to get someone to stop asking what you plan to do after graduation is to ask them for money. "So what are your plans now that you have graduated?"... "I'm glad you asked, cause, boy oh boy, do I have the investment of a lifetime for you."

- The right thing to do is always the right thing to do, and it's both as simple, and as complex as that.

- Always keep an extra straw in your car... you'll thank me later.

- Nobody has it all figured out, the only difference between you and the people who seem to, is that they stopped trying to.

- There is no such thing as sanity, just compatible forms of crazy.

- When it comes to ordering pizza remember this mathematical formula... 2x(Pizza you need)=The pizza you order.

- Your boss is not your enemy, your enemy is the guy driving with his turn signal on... unless, of course, he is also your boss, at which point disregard the initial portion of this advice.

- Cotton candy always seems like a better idea at the time, while popcorn is always a good one.

- Telling someone else your innermost fears is less about the value in hearing their advice back, as it is hearing that you aren't the only one who is afraid of them.

- If you don't know the right way to go, it's best not to go anywhere.

- If you are in line at the grocery store and someone in front of you buys one of those fake newspaper tabloids, take a picture of them. We deserve to know who these people are. Cause seriously, who buys that shit?

- The answer to so many problems, if we are honest, is to wake up earlier.

- They are absolutely such things as stupid questions... keep it to yourself, that's why God invented Google.

- The most important question to ask yourself is "What if I'm wrong?".

- Never forget that the highest mountains, have the broadest bases.

- When you don't know what type of wine to bring to a house party, bring Swedish Fish. Everyone loves Swedish Fish.

- There are things worth fighting for, and they are called 'friends'. 

- 'Moms on Facebook' is a great name for a band.

- The best we can hope for is another chance to try our best.

- Only assholes give advice before someone asks for it... oh wait...

- Be nice to your older sister, after all, she's been there for your whole life, and that includes that little ice skating tribute you staged during the Lillehammer Olympics.

- If someone posts a picture of their newborn baby on Facebook, don't click the "like" button. It's a baby for Gods sake, not a picture of the fruit salad you just made. Summon the energy to type "congratulations".

And, I'll save my best advice for last...

- Life is a lot like treading water in a pool. When you jump in, your brain will tell you that you need to work extremely hard to stay afloat. Your arms and legs will thrash around in an attempt to keep your head above water. But as any survival expert will tell you, you actually don't need to work nearly as hard. That the trick to surviving long periods in the water is to from time to time, is to relax and let yourself sink a bit below the surface, rest, and then to resurface again. That the thought you have when you enter the water, to kick and fight, is actually the worst thing you can do, and the trick is actually to do the opposite. The trick being that it takes much less than you think to be okay.

Because the truth is, you're okay, and you've always been okay... so stop fighting.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Shuffle

So it seems to be a debate that never ends. A debate that, from my opinion, splits itself along generational lines. The older generations being opposed, while the younger ones are more progressive and tolerant. Though both sides agree that it comes down to a person choice, or preference, those opposed just don't seem to get it. And the debate rages on, in some instances it is strictly banned, while in others it is allowed.

And no, I'm not talking about Gay Marriage.

I'm talking about that other debate that exists within the world of running. The debate of to run with, or without music.

And while it's not exactly a sensitive issue, people seem to have pretty solid opinions on the subject one way or the other.

 Some believe more in the sanctity of running, as they put it, the notion of a quieted mind. They see running as a chance to get away, to escape the chaos of every day life and letting your thoughts clear out. Just you, your thoughts, and soundtrack to your own breathing, and beating heart. The goal being to block out the outside distractions and focus on the process of running.

On the opposite side there are those who run while listening to music, of which, admittedly, I am one. These people who feel as though the music heightens the experience of the run. People who find comfort, assistance, and support from a personal preference of music. Those who believe music doesn't serve as a distraction from the run, but an addition to it.

But this blog isn't an attempt to take one side or another. It seems to me that the personal preference to this question comes down to how/when you began your running career. It's only relatively recent that iPods or other music playing devices were manufactured in small enough size for this even to be feasible option. Not to mention the fact that most people who began running in school did so in a team atmosphere where groups were encouraged to go run together, where headphones would never have been allowed to begin with.

But regardless, this blog came about after a discussion with a friend after she had asked me to put some music onto her new iPod. The discussion took off from there, another one of our friends pointing out that I had done this for her once before. She recalled that the last time I had done this the songs I had added were not exactly met with rave reviews.

Which then got me thinking, not only about the personal preference about whether or not to listen to music, but within that, the personal preference of what you listen to.

And I should say that most people who like to listen to music will admit to entertaining a wide variety of songs that they like. Most people will declare their song selection to be all over the map, from country to hip hop, from oldies to techno.

I am no exception. My playlists, if played for a jury, would have them guessing that they belonged to anyone from a teenage female, to an elderly black man.

And guess what? I'm okay with that. I'm okay with Glee segueing into Sam Cooke, segueing into Nas, and back again.

Because, in my opinion, therein lies the trick.

That despite the endless amounts of variety in the types or genres of music we listen to, there does exist a common link between them. For all the differences between Billy Joel, Billy Idol, Billie Holiday, and Billie Ray Cyrus that may inhabit your playlist, the one thing that unites them all is that in some way, if only some small way, you find in them some kind of inspiration (an achy breaky inspiration in some cases.).

That each of our playlists, be it "Speedwork 2012", "Glee Season Four", or "Ruben Studdard's Greatest Hits", all in some way seek to inspire us.


So here is another playlist of sorts, my own playlist, not of music, but a playlist on shuffle of the things that inspire me.


Track 1- The image of the five year old boy, holding the hand of his younger sister waiting at a bus stop. She stands closely, clutching his hand, as the giants that are high school seniors rush by.


Track 2- The triumphant wave of a Special Olympics swimmer to her adoring fans in the bleachers that had to be cut off by volunteer officials cause the race, her race was about to start and they needed her to get in the water.


Track 3- An autistic boy who wore a race shirt from a race he's run all five days last week.


Track 4- The sight of a key chain filled with white, pink, green, maroon, blue, yellow, glow in the dark, grey, and black.

Track 5- 20 out of 20 spelling tests.

Track 6- Grandmother's flanking the graduate in their cap and gown.

Track 7- A POTD.


Track 8- The curtain call of the lady who has spent my whole life clapping herself.

Track 9- A President who holds these truths to be self evident, that all men, yes, all men and women regardless of sexual orientation are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and above all the pursuit of happiness.

Track 10- Friends.

Track 11- A homeless man who catches a 4:49am bus to attend a 5:30am run.... when it's not raining.

Track 12- An unlikely raised hand to read out loud.

Track 13- The genuine excitement that washes over a particular face at the very mention of almond m&ms.

Track 14- The gratitude of the lesson that inspiration comes not when we try to find it, but rather, when we stop and let it find us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Ironies of Irony

So I had this english teacher in high school. Some of you may have had the same teacher. Well, maybe not this exact teacher, but at least a similar one. The teacher that I am speaking of, is one that loved "the classics" a bit too much. You know, the one that made you question whether he had the likeness of Jay Gatsby tattoed on his nether regions. The one who seemed to adjust his pants every time he mentioned Henry David Thoreau,  and heaven forbid he not use all three names when referring to him.

But either way, the particular version of this teacher that I had loved to talk about irony. Nothing, it seemed, made him happier than to bloviate on the ironies that existed within the American literature that he conditioned us to hate so much.

And though it's been many years since I sat in his classroom, to this this day there are still many things I owe to the man. The fact that every time I hear the word "existentialism", I immediately leap for the sharpest object in sight. The overwhelming urge to take a dump in Walden Pond. Or the fact that I was the only who cheered at the end of "Into the Wild", the movie based on the book of the same title.

But potentially the one positive thing I can say about the effect this man had on me, is that little piece about irony, which may in itself be ironic. I can say, that without this man, I wouldn't have the same awareness of irony as it unfolds around me.

Which brings me to this weekend.

This past Sunday was the first race of what I like to call the "Philly Tri-fecta", a series of three must-do races if you are a runner in Philadelphia. Consisting of the Philadelphia Marathon weekend in November, the Philadelphia Distance Run (half marathon) in September, and this past weekend's Broad Street Run, held the first Sunday in May each year.

This ten mile race that shoots straight down Broad Street with a slight detour around City Hall has grown, or rather, exploded in popularity in recent years, ballooning to an astounding 40,000 participants. A number that only grows more impressive when you learn that this 40,000 entrant race sold out in five hours.

And while I could be referring to the irony of a race that bills itself as "The Worlds Fastest Ten-Miler", that has grown so large that people need to stop and wait in line, not for bathrooms, but for a chance to squeeze across a congested finish line, I am not.


No, the irony that came to mind yesterday wasn't the overcast skies, the parade of runners passing by the impoverished neighborhoods with a wave and a smile, or the large crowds.

The irony that stuck with me had nothing to do with 40,000 runners, in the "Worlds Fastest Ten Miler", but rather with two runners, in the one of the days slowest ten miles.


Because, you see this was yet another race that I was lucky enough to run with Back on My Feet Philadelphia. Though, I'm not sure you could have convinced me a few years ago that I would ever use the term "lucky" in reference to a fifteen mile pace, or a 2:32:34 ten mile finish. But it doesn't take long for you, once you are invited inside this group to learn that the luck you feel from being a part of a race like this has little to do with the race itself, but rather at being a part of someone elses.

And on this particular day, I couldn't have asked for a better race to be a part of.

A race with enough irony to stop an english teacher's heart, the kind that kicks you in the gut.

That of two homeless men, one sixty years old, and one twenty seven, the latter of which providing an impromptu tour of the places he used to live. A childhood home around one corner we passed by, a second floor apartment above a barbershop, and lastly a small stretch of concrete, a subway entrance, a hometh of sorts, where he spent his final night before checking into a shelter.


And that of the sixty two year old. The man running ten miles down Broad Street, to the final destination of The Philadelphia Naval Yard. A place that this man worked for many years, before quitting in a hasty decision, a mistake that he will tell you began the slow nose dive that descended down through isolation, loneliness, eventually crashing into homelessness.


And me in the middle, sandwiched between the irony of a man running past his own past, of homes had and lost, and another, running towards a destination, a finish that once was the start of his own downfall.


But here's the thing, while these tidbits of ironies are useful devices in the course of telling a story.

These two aren't stories, they're men.

Men that you have to meet to understand. Men that are more than tales of ten mile races, than quips with poetic license, and even more than stories of their past.

And that's why I was lucky to have run this race. Not for the story, the happy ending, the touching moment, or any conclusion after the 2:32:34, but rather for 2:32:34 themselves. The miles, and minutes spent with friends.

So I'll end with one last bit of irony, one that seems a rather relevant way to end this entry.

An irony about stars.


The irony that stars are these bright, burning balls of gas. Bright, burning, brilliant balls of gas that are blocked out, because our own lights, the lights of this city. That as I sit here tonight, there are stars up there, stars that I cannot see, because of the lights that shine up on the sky that hold them.

Stars that you can only see if you turn off the lights.



How's that for irony?

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Brief Thank You and a Request

So 365 days ago, I sat down and typed a working title to this blog "Running as I see it...", I chose this title with very little thought. I spent very little time worrying what to call this blog, cause quite frankly, I'm not sure, at the time, I had any desire to share it with anyone else.

But from the day that I finally worked up the courage to send the link to someone, not a day has gone by where I haven't been surprised and altogether touched by the fact that anyone would bother to read it. The fact that anyone, a friend, a co-worker, or even a stranger, would take the time to read anything I've written is and was beyond my wildest dreams.

So as I sit here, 365 days later, I find myself in a familiar position, recalling the wise words of someone else. Recalling the words of a friend, after I told him that I couldn't find the right words to thank him for the gifts he had given me.

He said, that it wasn't important what I said.

That the only real way to say "thank you" comes not after we receive the gift, but rather when we lend those gifts to someone else.

Please don't ever let me forget that...

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rings

So according to many sources, the oldest living tree in the world resides in Inyo County, California. It grows in the White Mountains across the upper portions of a place called Owen's Valley. Methuselah, named after the creature with the longest mentioned lifespan in the Bible, belongs to a class of tree known as the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine family. And, believe it or not, at the age of 4,843 years, it's location is actually a secret, said to protect it from vandalism.

And as impressive as many of the aspects of this particular tree are, the thing that surprised me the most was even with all of the fancy new technology available to scientists these days, the way they were able to date the age of Methuselah was they same way they taught you in elementary school. They simply count the rings inside the tree.

Which I guess surprised me the most, cause I wasn't sure if that was something people actually did. I guess, I just thought that was something they told kids in school as an interesting footnote. But upon further research (and by research, I mean a google search), I stumble upon something known as dendrochronology.

And for those of you, who didn't immediately leave this site at the mention of the word "dendrochronology", I'll explain why any of this is relevant.

Cause, you see, this process of counting the rings is actually much more than just calculating the age of tree. It seems, according to these websites, that the rings within the tree tell you not only about the number of years, but also about the years themselves.

And I don't know, there is something that I like about that.

About a ring for each year. A simple ring that winds it's way around a tree that tells you everything you need to know about the year that formed it. The amount of water available, the temperature, the length of winter, and the scars of long healed cracks. Rings that build, one on top of another, bearing the story of the years that have passed by.

And while the science of dendrochronology probably doesn't have you leaping from your chair with excitement, for me, for this writer, it seems a topic worth examining.

This idea of counting the years, of measuring the time that makes us, us.

But I guess I'm getting ahead of myself.

Because, believe it or not, this blog entry didn't begin with a google search, a 4,843 year old tree, or a wikipedia page. It began simply, with a picture. A small, black and white of me and a friend, printed in a local newspaper. A picture that managed to travel, not just the distance that separates printers and delivery boys, but distance that separates me, and old friends I used to know.

And as e-mails and facebook messages trickled in, I found myself staring blankly at the questions of what happened to me, and where I had gone. I found myself staring blankly at computer screens, longing for something as simple as dendrochronology.

Cause, I guess I wish it was as easy as simply showing you my rings. Of pulling out a ruler and letting you measure the distance between them. Of letting you run your finger along the curves that wind around me. Of letting you find those small chinks and indents that lay within them. Of letting you see the story, instead of trying some way to tell it.

Cause if you saw, then somehow you would just know. You'd be able to see those rings in the middle. The short ones, the ones that tell of long winters, of years crippled by fear, afraid to let myself grow at all. You'd see the scars, the large and the small ones, the chinks, and the cracks.

And you'd see that, somehow, the story didn't end there.

Which brings me back to my favorite part of dendrochronology, the part that I neglected to mention in the earlier portion of this blog.

And that is, that for all you are able to learn about one tree by studying it's rings, you are actually able to learn more about those that surrounds it.

That scientists, just by examining the inside of one tree, can actually learn about what was going on around the tree. How much shade was provided by others, what types of other trees were around them, and so forth.

And I think I like that the most.

Cause if I look at the story of the rings that came next, the rings that slowly began to grow wider, and stronger, I don't see the story of me, but rather the story of the people who helped me get there. The people that took the time to heal the chinks and the cracks. The people who stood around me, who protected me, and let me grow. And when I look at those rings, the rings that wrap around the outside of me I can't help but see that they tell a much different story.

The story not of a tree, but of a forest.