Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Cards

I'm guessing that each of our families had at least one. One family that would send one of those Christmas cards with the folded up piece of paper enclosed. A single page of text, singled spaced, Times New Roman font of pure pretentiousness. A letter of eloquent quips about trips to Europe, and Ivy League acceptances. All of which gave you the impression that the author penned it beside a roaring fire place in a velvet robe, while sipping a snifter of brandy and smoking a pipe.

But, all in all, I like Christmas cards. 

There is something pleasing about the seeing them folded upon your parents mantle piece, opening the ones sent to you, and hearing mom mention names of childhood friends you haven't seen in decades. Not to mention that annual ritual of passing by your parent's refrigerator and catching a quick glimpse of a family photograph, and saying...

"Mom, who the hell are these people?"

Though, in fairness, this isn't an entry about the traditional Christmas cards I've received. 

Instead, it's an entry, a short one at that, about another card I was given this Christmas season that reminded me of a lesson that someone taught me a some years ago.

That the greatest gift to have, is the gift of having something to give away.

Even if it's a simple, white business card with a name, and a job they hold.

And while I'm sure I'll receive many other cards in the years, and Christmases to follow, I'm not sure one will ever mean as much to me as this one. 

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Batteries/Water's Edge

So it's Christmas time, and as a result, I think each of us will be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. That inevitable trip down memory lane as you recall the various childhood memories you have of the many Christmas mornings that have gone by.

If you are like me you'll have the similar recollections of quickened heart rates as you sat for what seemed like an eternity as your mom took her sweet time in the bathroom before granting you permission to rush downstairs. You'll remember the way your toes felt on the cold wooden floor because, in your haste, you neglected to add socks to your pajama bottoms and top when you got dressed. They'll be the sense memory associated with the smell of coffee and pine needles, and the sound of wrapping paper meeting it's final demise that needs no description.

But within these shared memories, each of us holds our own. Those memories that exist only for us, and our families, the ones we hold closest.

For me these memories range from the images of my father playing Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo as I sat there marveling at his ability. To the thump of my mother's stride as she carried me back up to my room that year I had a stomach bug. To the ones I'll keep only for me, ones that probably wouldn't make much sense to you anyway.

But if I may go back to, what I imagine, was more of a collective experience, it would be those universal things that put the brakes on the holiday fun. Things like a dog or cat knocking over the Christmas tree, or some kind of baking/cooking disaster centered around dinner.

Though, if you ask me, there was one thing above all others that caused Christmas day to come to a screeching halt. The moment shortly after opening that one toy or game that you had been hoping and praying to receive for weeks. Just after you politely opened the remainder of the gifts of less excitement and paid the appropriate 'thank you's to the deserving parties. And seconds after you gnashed through whatever box, or packaging tape lay before you and the hours of fun you were destined to spend with it.

The moment you realized it needed batteries.

There was nothing quite like the disappointment that followed the days and weeks of waiting for THE gift, only to have to endure another day when your mom or dad could go purchase the AA or AAA batteries it would need.

Although, in some good ways and bad, this particular issue seems to affect today's youth less than it did for us. Nowadays most of these toys don't require the same Duracell or Energizer batteries that our childhood demanded. Gone are the days where you had to ration your games of Tetris around your battery budget, or the conserve the volume of your Discman as you listened to that new Green Day cd.

 But it wasn't the though of Christmas that got me thinking about batteries. It wasn't the snowmen, the lights, or the 3,000 versions of Wham's "Last Christmas" playing on the radio. It wasn't any of those things.

It was the soles of my Brooks running shoes striding along the pavement beneath them turning to sand before they came to stop. A 'Forrest Gump' moment where it seemed as though I had run to the edge of the Earth as my toes stopped just short of the Gulf of Mexico.

It was the feeling that somehow, somewhere I had run clear off the pages of my own story and onto somebody elses.

That, as I stood there, with the small waves splashing onto the white shore, I couldn't help but feel as though this wasn't supposed to be, that it wasn't meant to happen to me. That the true final pages of the story written for me was supposed to end long ago, and some thousands of miles away. That my own original story never included moments or views like this.

And I guess this is where I intended to loop the idea of batteries back in. Where I'd weave in the fact that there are two types of batteries, the ones that run out and die, and the ones that can be re-charged by an outside source of energy.

And while that would have been a reasonable place to end this blog, it seemed slightly disingenuous to the way I am feeling now.

Because, the truth is, that there were many parts of me, parts of my original story that prevented views like the one on that beach and instead, accepted the ones from  my second floor, bedroom window as the world passed by.

And I guess I've spent a lot of time running away from those parts. Trying to outrun the loneliness, the sadness, the hopelessness. Trying to avoid the defective parts that brought me there in the first place, the dishonesty, the self-centeredness, the fear.

But as I sit here now, thinking back to the places I've been, and the views I've had, it seems entirely possible that in the end, the greatest thing that kept me down was something else entirely.

That maybe the greatest thing that prevented me from going anywhere, was doubting that I was ever meant to. Maybe the very thing that holds me back isn't the part that hasn't changed, but the part that won't let me believe I have. Maybe more importantly than remembering our scars, is remembering that they are scars because they healed.

And maybe I needed to run far away, a thousand miles away, to the edge of the shore, to where I could run away no further, to realize there was really nothing to run away from after all.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Test this!

So education in the state of Pennsylvania has, like many other states, been begun to place a higher premium on standardized test scores. They have decided to base the majority of their educational policies on the results of these tests, everything from teacher pay, to graduation requirements. In order to do this, the state has come out with a series of exams known as "The Keystone Exams".

They are broken up into three parts, algebra I, literature, and biology. Each test consists of two, ninety minute testing blocks, spread over the course of three days. And at Radnor High School, where I work, the tests were given this past week. And if the reaction from the students is any guide to how well the school performed, we may be in for a long winter.

Which brings me to this point...

(Disclaimer, if you would like to avoid my political opinion, or are averse to profanity, I would skip the next line.)


Having said that, I decided that perhaps the most therapeutic way for me to deal with my distaste for these exams was to, in fact, make my own.

So whip out your number two pencil, head to the bathroom before we start, and turn off your cell phone, because here now, is The Running As I See It Exam...

1.) Mini 8oz water bottles are/were...
a.) Cute
b.) Easily packaged
c.) The perfect amount of hydration
d.) Completely pointless. Seriously people, buy the damn 16 oz., if you can't finish it, who gives a shit, it's just water.... dump it out.

2.) Naked men in the gym locker room are...
a.) A part of life
b.) Gross
c.) Just men changing, no big deal
d.) The most judgmental people on earth, because how dare you come with your bathing suit already on under your pants!

3.) Which of the following inequalities are true for all real values of x?
a.) x^3 > x^2
b.) 3x^2 > 2x^2
c.) (2x)^2 >3x^2
d.) How the fuck do you like it?

4.) Watching a marathon is...
a.) Like watching a mass death march
b.) More fun than running one
c.) A great opportunity to test your witty sign making ability
d.) A great way to be grateful to have healthy nipples

5.) Doing track work in the winter is...
a.) A great way to keep up your speed

b.) A good way to get mugged
c.) The most glaring example of your insanity
d.) All of the above

6.) Finish lines are...
a.) A great place to feel the weight of your accomplishment
b.) The place I've seen the most people throw up
c.) Where they hide the good snacks
d.) Never more important than the road that got you there

7.) "Dinosaurs would make great pets"
a.) A terrible idea, backed up by absolutely no factual evidence
b.) A conversation I had with a nine year old
c.) My life
d.) All of the above

8.) Saying your sorry is...
a.) A necessary thing we all must do
b.) One of the hardest things to say
c.) Only a word
d.) The least important part of being forgiven

9.) A BYOB Strip Club is a great...
a.) Way to beat a City of Philadelphia loophole
b.) Place to sell cocaine
c.) Way to get rich
d.) Idea in need of investors... just saying

10.) Praying is...
a.) Something you do at Church
b.) Something you do when you have to pee in traffic
c.) Something you do when you are in trouble
d.) Whenever you ask anyone for help

11.) Fighting with your girlfriend is...
a.)  An inevitability in any relationship
b.) A good way to sleep by yourself
c.) When you realize you don't know ANYTHING about women
d.) When you realize it's still worth having one

12.) Inspiration exists...
a.) At the end of the movie "Rudy"
b.) In the midst of a long race
c.) In that next song on your iPod
d.) Whenever we choose to look hard enough

13.) The most dangerous person to avoid while running on the street is...
a.) The taxi driver
b.) The twentysomething female texting while walking
c.) The street sweeper
d.) The Planned Parenthood lady asking for petition signatures who will NOT take no for an answer

14.) The key to having a good day is...
a.) Getting enough sleep
b.) Getting enough to eat
c.) Doing something for yourself
d.) Realizing that doing good is more important than feeling good

15.) That cute girl on the street who looked at you when you ran by is...
a.) Checking you out
b.) Hoping you'll come back for her number
c.) Secretly in love with you
d.) Staring at the small bit of spit hanging off your lip

16.) Understanding the road to redemption is when you realize...
a.) The road is the destination
b.) That your road, and his are actually the same, just one long road.
c.) That it's never about understanding.
d.) All of the above

17.) The correct response to the closing of "The Forum", Philadelphia's oldest porn theater, is...
a.) Worst news ever
b.) Worst news ever
c.) Worst news ever
d.) Worst news ever

18.) The answer to a bad day is...
a.) Otis Redding
b.) Booze
c.) Friends
d.) Going to bed

19.) Running is...
a.) Life
b.) What we do when we can't sit still
c.) Best understood after you stop
d.) Whatever we chose to make it

20.) Correct answers are...
a.) The agreed upon answer to a particular question
b.) The goal
c.) Most important
d.) Reserved for those narrow minded individuals who foolishly think that there is only one answer to each question.