Tuesday, June 24, 2014
my dad used to write us letters.
most of them were penned by hand, his distinctive all-caps block type interrupted here and there with 'm's that looked like the chinook coming down the foothills into the plains. most of them were stories.
although we could all read plenty fine, i distinctly remember being read these letters aloud. mostly my sister did it, sometimes my mother, and the entire experience lingers in the delicious category of my memory. somehow we weren't running around or doing chores or chasing bedtimes and baths. somehow the babysitter was done for the day. somehow we were all sitting still and quiet enough to hear the words. and they filled our imaginations, those words, they swelled our hearts and made us miss the man even more, though we were satisfied with being taken along on even a handful of his adventures. he wrote about water and canoes and rivers and heroes and giants and land and trees. before we left our home, he had built a dream for us to go to. those months–of leaving and packing and moving and driving and goodbye and let's go–could have been the most tumultuous of our lives; all i remember are the letters.
i heard once that george lucas, back when his storytelling was better, consulted joseph campbell prior to the writing of the original star wars trilogy. apparently, lucas knew that it was important to construct myth, and he wanted to get it right.
the letters from my father were constructed myth. though much of the stories was based in 'fact', the most important stuff, the stuff that sticks in my head and can be recited by all of my siblings word for word, that stuff was myth. it started off true and then went somewhere better, became bigger, made more sense and elevated our imaginations to greater possibilities. for kids growing up in the 80s with nikes on their feet and mcdonald's in their bellies, it was important, it was imperative, to construct myth, if for no other reason than to elevate.
throughout much of my life, i have had the luxury of long talks with my dad. early on, it was about anything and everything and most of it was just learning, and it wasn't hard, and it was my favorite time in the car or on the bike or before dinner was done. we would daydream together about going to italy some day, picking up a pair of brand new colnagos or pinarellos at the factory, and then riding and eating our way through the entire country. we would dream about having horses with hooves as big as my head, and a barn to keep them in, and the cool farm chores i could do. making any of those beautiful dreams come true was beside the point. the point was that we could and should dream, and we could do it together, each with his own honest smile, giddy in his heart.
it is important to construct myth.
it is important to have ideals, and embed those in good stories, and tell the stories to children and young people and old people you love. we must remember risk and adventure and challenge and triumph. we must recall comradery and the power of two hands holding together over rushing water. we must remember giants.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
'i like when you wash my hair.'
'you have a mane like a horse.'
'i like horses.'
'they're fast and strong and beautiful. like you.'
it's been years since i've bathed this child. she is in the last glowing months of absolute innocence, unformed by adolescence, game for anything except being a grown up. but now she has height that reaches her mamas, long quick legs, a sense of humor that grasps Irony, and a shattered right elbow. i haven't bathed this girl since she could do it herself, singing and playing in so much water, supervised and unhurried, a cherub with a cloth and bubbles. now she cradles a cast that weighs more than her head, now she steps gingerly, everywhere, now her neck gets pulled by the sling for her cast, now her freckles are fleeting reminders of her carefree days.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
before i became much of a man, my grandfather was gone.
i used to write poetry. it was pretty terrible. and i would send it to my grandmother because she was a master of literature and teaching and she would read it to my grandfather, sitting by his side, at a very long table that used to feed so many hungry mouths, and he would get exasperated and exclaim, "there's just too much sex in it!"
i hadn't had any sex when i wrote any of that stuff.
later on, before i even graduated from high school, my grandfather was gone. he left before i became something more elegant and possessed of agency than a hormone-ridden accident of circumstance and micromanaging. he left before i could run. he left before i met the lady of my life. he left before that lady and i made and raised some sweet sweet children that he would have utterly enjoyed. cancer doesn't care about sweet cheeks.
this grandfather is one i think of often. he had many children. he had much bitterness. he had a hard time figuring out where he fit in a family he loved more than himself. he collected knives and grandchildren and sharpened both with care. he loved hunting. he loved the stories about it more. from this grandfather, i have my champagne taste, a quick temper, and an old seiko watch from the 80s. it may well be as old as i am, and it ticks by the kitchen sink, and blinks rapidly to let me know that its battery is nearly exhausted, and i left it there to do the dishes.
i have a grandfather that knows me now, and i wonder if there is much to be proud of. he knows my children, and welcomes them into his home and laughs at their hilariousness, and hugs them though he can no longer lift them. it seems now that he is the delicate one, that they are careful with him.
the lack of hair on my head, the blue in my eyes, the moles i get removed every few years from my freckled white skin, and my long fingers are from this grandfather. despite my champagne taste, i have joad family resolve, and my jalopy of dignity, however rickety, will make the trip. i got this from him.
there is no resolution here, no respite. onward and upward is the only way to go. struggle makes the most sense. there is no time to falter. the cheeks are still sweet.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Rain slapped the pavement. Wind blew inland from the lake, whipping flags through soggy seizures, the spray into my eyes. There was no relief in going down. Puddles found fissures in the road to pool and arrest rivulets in no difference between my skin and shiny tarmac. We churned.
Reaching the parking lot at the first gate, stuttering to a slow stop over the chopped pavement and grieving patches of slick tar, turning left to go up again, hunched forward, leaning into the gear.
The machine leapt forward. Shiny black metal polished with embrocation and thigh stubble, it was a cat closing on prey. No need to get out of the saddle. No need to push harder than smoothly, to shift to a larger cog, to hunch or gasp. No need to do anything beyond a subtle wrapping of light grip around the tops of the bar, and a coaxing (more in myself than of the machine) toward the grade.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
my favorite color is red.
the semi-sour smell of black leather seats preempted our stifled exit from the volvo that afternoon. i must have gotten out of the back seat on the righthand side, edging my faded nikes between the crackling silver panels of the car, and the chafed latticework of the fence.
a silent sunlight roared through the slats.
and everything was sticky, and gold.
i was the last one through the gate, carrying something plastic and annoying against my skin. i started toward the back door, always eager to rush past the concrete pad i had watched my father pour to serve as a storage area for now-greying trash cans wilting in the sun. and maybe someone said, 'shhhh!', or maybe i stopped hearing, but in a moment, everything went quiet, and i looked up.
between my dad peering over the chipped sill of the back porch window and the shadow in which i stood, there, shiny and proud in all its bmx, kickstand, butterfly tread glory, was my first bike.
and it was red.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
some time around this time, 16 years ago, my grandfather died in his sleep.
he had had a long bout with diabetes, and cancer, and cancer again, and then a heart attack. my dad was there. they had moved my grandfather's bed to the living room on the ground floor, had waited on him and laughed with him and tried to resuscitate him when he stopped breathing, but he had stopped breathing, and they remembered that he wanted it that way, when it was time.
i remember coming back to school after time down south for the funeral. it was cold and it was march and i was generally in a daze. i hugged my buddy zack in the hall, no words spoken, because his grandfather had died a few months earlier. and probably none of us got it. but then i got it. and then i pulled away, he looked at me funny, and i realized not everyone has the grandfather that i just lost.
on a very cold night a couple months earlier, i was on an accidental date with a beautiful girl with brown eyes and a quick smile. we had gone to look at stars. i had brought a sleeping bag. there were no plans to do any kissing. it was in my dumber days when i thought i could get away without euphemism, get out and look at stars on a freezing cold night on a lookout near a highway in a blue ford sedan. apparently not. i got home that night and was in enormous trouble for having completely forgotten to pick up my brother and my dad's sound equipment from my brother's elementary school dance. i went to bed in massive trouble with my dad, a disappointment to my brother, and completely confused by this beautiful girl who had just spent the last couple of hours kissing her way into my heart.
in the middle of the night, my dad got a call from his dad. it was time for my grandfather to die. my dad had to leave now.
my dad had to leave in the car i had just borrowed to go on a date with a girl who didn't know or love me while i forgot to take care of my little brother and, instead, drove the girl home to leave the gas tank at less than a quarter. in the middle of the night, when your father calls to tell you that he has decided to die and he wants you to be with him while he confronts this, there are no gas stations open between your oldest son's stupidity and the part of the country where things are open past 6pm.
somehow, my dad made it to a gas station.
this is all very important because somewhere in there there is a story about the way things seem to go, and how i will always manage to fuck it all up because i am smitten with some girl who doesn't even know me and won't love me back. there will always be a story about how everything means so much more to me than to anyone else and on this interface with the world, there is no telling how many other stories i've missed or gotten wrong. there are details, devils and otherwise, and i'm missing them because i think no one 'gets' what it's like to be me, with my heart, in the face of all of them. how gross.
i was walking toward a ridable street the other day after having spent some time in line at the flower shop with every other man hoping to flower up his own bitter truth on one cold day in february. i go to this flower shop regularly. i never spend this much money in one shot, on one bouquet. i didn't think twice. i found the red roses, strategically priced at a premium above all other roses, and any flower in the shop the day before, and i got in line, and i complimented other men on their choice of arrangement. i paid for my bouquet, left, unlocked my bike, and started home.
on the sidewalk, a lady with golden hair glanced at my bouquet and, with an under-the-breath scoff and condescending smile, marched on while starting a new statement of complaint, 'this cracks me up…' i could just imagine the rest of her sermon. something about men and convention and one day a year that they should, commercially- and societally- and maybe even sexually-driven, 'be nice' to their (normalized, hetero-) lady, buy her flowers, and measure up to some kind of proper. (i had just left the store where a rough-looking local had tried to glean the 'meaning' of blue roses from the mandarin-speaking proprietor of the shop. she had politely asked him to ask someone else. he was demanding. they're flowers, fucknut, assign the meaning yourself and pay the cash and get on with it.) or maybe all these guys carrying bouquets cracked her up because no one even likes roses. or maybe because it brought us all together, this brother/partnerhood of folks, from all walks/locomotions of life, in our quest to be a good person to our significant person. my grandmother starts calling out people's birthdays as 'significant birthday' when they get to be too old to be happy ___th. maybe i'm too old to buy flowers on vday.
and then i got home and put the bouquet in water and got the girls and some groceries and set to work making an awesome tasty dinner. i wasn't expecting romance. i wasn't expecting sex or love or whatever else is supposed to happen on vday with a dozen long stem roses on the table. i was just expecting to not be in trouble for not meeting some unwritten and unspoken expectations. i was expecting to feed happy children and send them to bed with dreams of being winter olympians. i was expecting to be able to relax. and i guess i did.
when zack pulled out of my hug and when that blonde lady scoffed at my bouquet i figured it was all just the same old story of me: no one gets it. and that's fine and that's good and there's a lot of safety in that, but somewhere, some time, this solo effort will end. will there ever be enough gas or flowers to get us through?
Friday, February 7, 2014
the very sunlight that washes over everything in that impossibly-golden hue, the glow that spills in and sets alight anything that might possibly even be thinking about reflecting, the stuff that pours through window panes and hair against the wind, even this just feels like guilt when someone has cancer.
i stood in someone's shower, memorizing the droplets before they left my skin, each hitting the mat to trickle into the deep unknown, and i thought about what i had just done. it wasn't anything major; an easy pace, a long run, some time spent with the woman who fell in love with me a few lifetimes ago, and every step was away from, and then back to, someone with cancer.
the other night at running practice, the mailman and i churned around rykert crescent, trying to keep our double loops under four minutes, egging each other on and driving the pace to spit and cough through our ninety-second recovery. on the fourth double loop set of six, i started up the straight and thought about someone with cancer. i thought about how he might not ever be able to run. i thought about his granddaughters who love to run. i ran faster. i used to think i could run myself away from any kind of heredity. i thought i could run myself away from the diabetes that killed my grandfather. i thought i could run myself away from the heart disease that has taken all but one bitter sibling of my stoic grandmother. i thought i could run myself out of a hangover that is nothing compared to the alcoholic stain in both blood lines. if only i could run the cancer out of everyone.
an important notion in endurance sports is the arrogance of capability. this is important because we're capable of doing what most others are not. we identify ourselves by determining what we are not. and yet, confronted with the most basic human truth, that we are mortal, there is no capability to overcome or run beyond or just push through. cancer wins, and far too often.
an important notion in endurance sports is the arrogance of capability. this is important because we're capable of doing what most others are not. we identify ourselves by determining what we are not. and yet, confronted with the most basic human truth, that we are mortal, there is no capability to overcome or run beyond or just push through. cancer wins, and far too often.
i reached toward my face to brush off a maddening drip. in the fury of movement dexterity became paw. i could only be described as animal.
the major evolution for people and prey was the separation between breathing and eating. all of a sudden, we could run. i ponder this to avoid choking on oversized bites of energy bar, chunks between chattering teeth, wrapper clamped between handlebar and wet, numb fingers. my hands look like those of a corpse, bloodlet and clean. my jaw grinds food. i go.
in order to tell truths about things, especially ourselves, it is often easiest and least disturbing if we dress them up in blatant, shocking horrors, something better buried than whispered or wept over.
but if you've never pulled a child from rubble or watched bullets push life out of your best friend's chest, you might get hung up on those truths, whoever's they are, and skip over the most important part being told.
we lie fantastically so you don't hear what we whisper in our sleep.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
it's going to be a tough new year.
a long time ago, i came to some ill-informed decision that spending, money or other perceived-to-be-valuable-to-someone-(likely)-else things, was bad. things of value are for saving. (in writing this, i am coming to the drastic conclusion that i was misperceiving what things were valuable, and to whom, but that's a whole other story…) so i carefully and haphazardly and completely unintentionally built up an odd list of things that should be saved. a random sample might have included:
- powerbars and clif bars - for times when the ride or backpacking trip was so epic that such an expensive bit of 'nutrition' should actually be employed
- carabiners - just in case
- first kisses - for the right time and place and lighting and face and..trembling
- dollars - for new gear or bike parts or things that kept me fascinated and motivated through the earning of the dollars
- virginity - hm…
- drawings, every single damn one - to show at my retrospective when i eventually became a famous artist
- love letters - they meant a lot, and it's not often things that mean a lot are given to people who need them
- frames on rolls of 36 exp. slide film - that stuff wasn't cheap
- sheets of pearl finish ilford photo paper - also not cheap, let alone readily available for purchase in the ottawa valley
- batteries in mini mag lites and portable cassette players - hm.
- inner tubes - somehow i rode patched tubes for the entirety of my riding days until i made it through my third year of university
- my dad's clothes - he's still around, and we still talk, but those threads meant a lot to me, frayed and faded and perfectly ill-fitting on me.
eventually, things got a little more figured out. i stayed sentimental and tried to adhere to a misinformed and misformed notion of my 'moral self'. i tried very hard to be a stand-up guy. i tried to see things through. i ended up doing a lot of things i didn't want to do at all. and i didn't do even more things that i was really, really dying to do.
she was not taller than average, but she held a poise and grace about her that belied some kind of regality. i thought her egyptian, a ruler, she was dark of hair and looked like someone whom should be obeyed, somewhere, somehow. i had asked her of her ethnic background, as my co-actor and i had been discussing her and how pretty she was. in the honest quest for the information, i completely missed the part where she assumed it was another pick-up line and rolled her eyes accordingly. dumb and unaware and just happy to be talking to two pretty girls at all, let alone at once, i smiled and waited for her answer: 'brazilian and lebanese'. i must have choked. there was goodness happening there. later on, her doctor would ask her why she didn't need a prescription. she didn't want to get into a long explanation regarding my misguided and grossly inflated sense of 'morals', so she responded that she just didn't. he persisted. he asked if she had a boyfriend. yes. didn't they have sex. no. why not. i don't know. does the boyfriend have something wrong with him. no…
lots of things wrong with him then and now, but one thing that has not changed is the sentimental self. one christmas i was dedicated to listing the things that made christmas christmas, and then i carried them out, with fervour, making sure that my family had christmas whether it was in a traditional way or not, whether my lady could leave the couch or not, whether i worried about the unborn baby we may never have or not, whether i was man enough to make it all happen or not. i needed christmas that year. i needed to get out my nostalgic and sentimental self and make some occasion, on my terms, with agency, on purpose. so many occasions in my life have just happened, more accidentally than epically, and more occasions must be made, and i have to see them coming first, so that i can get them right when they finally arrive, so that i can stop screwing it all up.
so this year, this new year, the first thing i did was get up before 8, put on a ton of clothes, and meet my buddy for a trail run in the frigid snow of the east don. we ran hard up and fast down. we cut new lines and i did my best not to bail while following his flying cleats over ice and snow and fallen brush everywhere. we got back to the parking lot, chests heaving and the sun peaking out for the first time in a long time, and i knew we had done something right. maybe that's where the occasion starts, without a ceremony, just doing the right thing at the right time, with everything we've got.
we are just five days into this brand new year, and there's someone else's baby that cries me awake every night, and my legs are just starting to come around to running and riding again, and there's a gleaming new torture machine in the living room, all set up and waiting, and i've already been through a whole other roller coaster of ceremony and saving. turns out, i'm no good at saving. so i was about two steps away from buying that full carbon TT bike in the west end yesterday after some craigslist flake failed to sell me a commuter mountain bike. i had shaken the sales guy's hand and given him my name, sized up the frameset, inquired about the specifics of warranty and service options, fondled the carbon a bit. i had made up my mind. only a phone call and a fitting away, that TT bike was mine. then i thought about it. i always overthink things, but i especially overthink the spending of money, especially when it's a big ticket purchase, especially when it's a purchase just for me. this time last year, i bought a wicked new camera body that i've only just now paid off. it was half as much as this bike, and it documented the adventures of my family all year, and will continue to allow me to make that special christmas calendar for others, and could make some other money if i ever got around to selling my portfolio better. that TT bike? that won't make me crap. it will really just be a series of holes in my savings, upgrading wheels, paying race fees, the list goes on. and it would only be for me. and the truth of it all: i don't really deserve it. i haven't put thousands of kilometers on the bike i already have. i haven't put thousands of hours on the trainer. i haven't gotten my big girl a bike that actually fits her. i haven't paid the goddam hydro bill. i've got dreams to pay for, and miles to go before i sleep.
there will always be another killer deal. (although, if anyone knows of an $80 mission workshop rambler bag in toronto that i sold two summers ago for quick cash, please send it my way…) but right now is the time to buckle down, to have something to show for myself, to put the time in, to earn things. it's going to be a long, hard year, but i'm pretty sure that's all i'm built for anyway. bring it.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
christmas is like a long, hard ride: the more you put into it, the better it is.
my favorite christmas in childhood memory was one of the first in the house that my parents had built, up on a snowy white hill surrounded by leafless maples and swaying spruce. we had all gone to the local small town. we had all searched and searched for gifts that would be 'perfect' for that particular person in the family. i had never spent so much time considering what pair of wool socks would best suit my little brother. i had never considered the soap my sister might like. i was sure those patterned socks would be perfect for my mom.
i had worked for the past few weeks in the wood shop of the local school, making novelty items out of scrap lumber, routering people's names into knotty pine, painting wooden christmas tree ornaments cut crookedly with a scroll saw then painted green, putting the mirror in another 'key rack' that no one had a use for. it was glorious.
everyone got socks that christmas.
then my parents went back to bed, my brothers and i went out to play hockey in the snow with my new net and puck, my sister started reading her book, and we were to reconvene for brunch. i remember quite vividly how fluffy the snow was, like stick handling the puck over snow after a goose down pillow fight. the sun was beaming. light glinted off of everything shiny or snow-covered, which was everything out there. my new sweatpants were bright red, like the paint on the hockey net. my brothers were flashes of blue and wool grey. we were giddy with the pleasure of the moment. mom was home. dad was home. we were proud of the gifts we had given. we were covered in light.
christmas has since devolved and then evolved into a time of midnight drives and sleepy presents, pressure cooker accommodations and the constant failure of myself to meet anyone's expectations. sometimes there was bedrest. sometimes there was christmas on the road. sometimes it was on the 25th and everyone was angry. sometimes it was before and didn't feel like christmas. sometimes we showed up a day later and every conversation ached like a hangover. yesterday, yesterday was evolution. we woke up in our own beds. the girls opened their stockings and presents. there was not enough, but this is a budget year, and they get twisted expectations from their friends at school. then we ate and all was well. there was coffee and gluten free cinnamon buns. there was bacon. it was christmas, evolved back into what it should be. and then it started snowing, big, fluffy flakes, covering everything in cold, white down. i was not angry.
now it's the time for resolutions, for promising to make next year just a little bit better, to plan a little tighter, to give a little more. now it's the time to ramp everything up as we hit the road and try not to screw up christmas under other people's expectations (not that i know what any of them are, let alone how to reconcile them with the realities of weather, driving, or my own little family). not really a problem; we all know that i'll fail to meet most people's expectations so there's no need to stress about the inevitable. next year though, next year i will cover all of us in light.
Friday, December 20, 2013
he was tall, lean, and hungry-looking, blonde with perfect teeth, and lips that stretched over his mouth when he smiled, and he usually smiled, especially when he was telling a story. this was lying through your teeth, only better, and beautiful.
he wore sweatpants with no logo, burgundy probably, at some point, and white socks, white at some point, that vanished into dirty red converse. his t-shirt was perfectly worn: yuppies a decade later would have paid premium dollar for such 'stonewash'. his hair curled a bit, and matted a bit more. he was local.
being shorter and newer and not from around there, i rushed home and transformed myself instantly. i dug out my most faded sweatpants to replace my new creased jeans. i put on the broken converse i had already grown out of. i left my t-shirt on. i was local.
where i grew up, when i grew up, we were all just as poor as each other. we all made our own fun in the trees behind our houses. we swam in the river and dove between the little oil slicks on the surface of the waves at the public dock. we rode stripped down mountain bikes without helmets or even shorts. we perfected the staycation, traveling everywhere by bike, our stories and egos getting bigger on every mile of the three between our parents' houses. no one went to vermont to ski. no one went to mexico on march break. i wore hand-me-down skates from the doctor's son. we all had patches on our knees and hemmed-out pants that were a little too short. when i grew up, we were all too poor to know any other way of it.
later on, we found out that there were differences.
i would never be local. i wasn't born there. my parents weren't from around there. and even though my dad built local houses and drove local trucks and my mom patched up local drunks and idiot snowmobilers at the local hospital, we would never be local. maybe that's why it was so easy to leave. we got good grades and worked far away. sometimes we stayed and fell in love with local girls. we just weren't from around there. and now, when i ride local roads with people who aren't from around there, i'm proud to say that i grew up on those roads, that riding those hills was the only way to see the girl i loved.
later on, that perfect blond boy with the smile and the uncle who played in prairie oyster would grow up. we wouldn't be friends anymore, wouldn't really even say hi. maybe we would nod in the hallway at high school. he would smoke and snowboard at the hill. i would snowboard in my backyard and avoid asthma attacks. his brother got into hard drugs and was later diagnosed as schizophrenic. we were different.
my kid asks me sometimes why we don't go to mexico for march break, or why she doesn't go skiing on winter weekends, or why we don't own our house or send her to different camp in the summer, or have a cottage… she knows that there are differences. i tell her that it's because of the choices of her mama and me, that we picked certain things to do for jobs, and certain things to spend money on, and that with these jobs and those money things, there's only so much money to go around. and then i remind her that i get to see her every day and every weekend, while i'm not out making a million dollars a year. we don't own our house, but we get to send her to school that's only a short walk away, and is another short walk from the grocery store, and the park, and 'amenities'. we made choices. we spent money on school and bikes and being healthy instead of rich. and then, to sum up, to make sure that she need not worry about her rank in the neighborhood family status thing for everything, i remind her that her mama rides faster than every lady in the neighborhood, that the little girl has the nicest bike of any kid in her school, that we may drive a small car but our bikes are nicer than most people's cars, and that she's more important than a million dollars a year, and i'd rather chase her in the park than dollars on bay street.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
the wind had been so cold and literal on the downward stretch of highway, loneliness seemed to creep along the base of endless rock cuts, until i looked to the side and saw i was leading an anonymous legion of suffering fools.
we were not in the valley yet.
the wind had been so cold that i became acutely aware of every porous stretch between the woven fibers of my shirts, of the holes pushed open by the sharp ends of safety pins lashing a bib to my club shirt, of the droplets of moisture making their ways skyward after a chilling encampment on my skin.
the sun had shone but not brightly enough to warm a damn thing, so one foot turned over the other, again and again and again, barely tapping out the rhythm of a dying percussionist bent on completing a song in time. waving to the crowd did nothing to save the strength. smiles were returned with grimaces. teeth were bared not out of menace or happiness, but of struggle. this is where the skin of one's teeth renders one naked and grasping.
the highway levelled off and gave way to footpaths and cold bridges and walkers and walkers and waddlers in the way. one side then the other, dodging and dying, choking on fuel to maintain the pace, stick with the group, find the pace, breathe, breathe. then we were borne onto the lakeside, dodging more people, rollerbladers and sunday strollers and fellow strugglers, and children. i thought myself too bare and grotesque to be witnessed by onlookers, let alone children. no one should have to see a man turn himself inside out, only to fail.
we were in the valley. the sun came out, blaring, pushing long shadows like suspicious glances of whether or nots and possibles toward that one elusive goal. the goal skipped along like the droplets atop the waves in the lake. we were still running out from the finish. i needed the turnaround.
at 35k, i discovered every pore atop my head and shoulders, stripped off my hat and gloves, steamed my way to the finish. i was a comet, shredding myself through atmosphere to arrive with whatever remained at the end. i was vapor.
about 700m from the line, someone yelled at me that i was almost done, that the finish was just around the bend. four bends later, someone came out from the side and ran with me, yelling at me to stay on her shoulder, right to the line, to go, to finish, to bring it in. i had already lost the goal. i couldn't actually see very much or very well. the sides of the world swelled and the line loomed. i took it.
Boston Qualifying time.
98 seconds past the mark.
Friday, October 11, 2013
of course, we were barely talking about bikes.
actually, we had been talking about bikes up until that point and then about how my amazingly nice custom road bike in the corner wasn't getting ridden nearly as much as it should. this is because i've been running. this is because i had the girls with me all summer. this is because it's the work year again. this is really just because i've been running. a lot.
we had been talking about bikes and then about how i haven't been riding bikes and then about how i was going to run a marathon in a few weeks. i don't look like a runner, let alone a marathoner, let alone a marathoner with audacious goals like mine, so he had to ask, 'are you ready?'
and i replied, 'yes...'
i had to think about the reply, but, once it came to me, it was certain. i was ready to run a marathon. i was ready to run 26.2 miles in under three hours. i was ready to hurt a lot. and all that, with a wheel in my hand and a bag on my back and a few hundred miles in my legs since june, that was before tomorrow. and it was before tuesday's tempo workout two days ago.
you see, strange things are done under streetlights on lakeshore by a man who moils for goals. warm up for three kilometers. jog slowlyish past sleeping houses and ambling hipsters absorbed in their twitter self-updates and trucks that smell like diapers and the bread factory and down to the lake. as soon as the watch beeps the third kilometer done, take off. the first k in this section, under four minutes. the music is blaring. the air is perfect. the traffic zips by, unaffected by the lone figure careening through the dark, two steps per second, one hundred fifty heartbeats per minute, in and out of shadows and highlights. the path streams along underneath. the second k disappeared somewhere. a right at the light not showing the white man walk sign. somewhere into the third k, taking turns harder than usual, testing, breathing. once around the parking lot, looping back, still into the darker of the dark. running alongside a raccoon pinned between the dying man and a plywood barrier, the awkward pause caught in polaroid stillness as cars render it all a scene. the fourth k begins, agony searing all parts. the pavement bucks, coughing up gravel and cracks. a hard left. onto the service road. more barriers. traffic behind while the swollen center pushes toward the dampness of a darkened ditch. just 1200 meters to go. just a thousand more steps. just a million more beats per minute. just five more minutes. grandma always said she could do anything as long as she knew for how long. how long. how long. beep.
so yeah, i'm ready. i'm ready for tomorrow that's going to be pretty damn similar but for 33k. i'm ready for the next day when we host thanksgiving. i'm ready for the day after when i do pretty much nothing but recover. i'm ready.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
red carpets are terrible.
in having to come up with reasons to talk and then subjects about which to talk but with which there would be no drive to enter conflict, i had exhausted my present imagination and resigned myself to following some orders and filling some glasses. ice water is benign. except, of course, when it is not, there will always be condensation happening onto the table cloth and moistening and cooling one's hands before they are grasped flaccidly in failed handshakes and lips pressed together in grim attempts at warmth.
ice water is tragic.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
some leftover hamburger buns were crowding the counter next to the unplugged and stained stainless steel electric kettle whose cord was snaking through the cornmeal crumbs discarded by earlier quests for the buns. cornmeal mixed with the condensation from the mayonnaise jar as it relented to the humidity of another, final, august morning, weeping next to the open cap crowned by a smudged butter knife, the handle of which precariously perched on a damp bamboo cutting board. cheddar was hard to come by in its hardest form but four slices later the orange dye decorated the buns and then there was the salami.
salami. salami is never purchased around here because it is meat in a vegetarian household, and it is expensive, and why would i make a salami sandwich when i have so many other things to pay for?
it was the sandwich i made when i thought i was rich.
the day before yesterday, i thought i was rich, enjoying a pay period extraneous to the usual two per month. then a bunch of expenses reared their ugly heads, and, in the interest of getting everything squared away before all hell breaks loose on tuesday, i paid for absolutely everything, all at once, and then sat in my kitchen, broke, eating salami.
at least there will be something to think about for 26k tomorrow, one foot in front of the other. easy now. this is really going to hurt...
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
And we could all see it.
He forced an easy distance from the shopkeeper if that's what he could be called, satchel sling over one shoulder and nervous eyes of indeterminate half exotic descent flitting from one shiny component to the next, customer and carbon treated in the same dull glance.
He was a buyer.
Monday, July 22, 2013
i got distracted.
when we were on the streetcar, she admitted to me that she almost kind of hoped that we got 'caught' and charged for our mission just so that she could frame the ticket. i'm sure that no one would have noticed the damn thing next to the images we created on that rainy afternoon in a pre-condo wasteland off of king west.
when i finally got the prints done and perfect and brought them to her in an unruly stack of resin-coated shock-beauty, we looked them over on some sagging furniture in a dirty student house and we both realized something we hadn't seen before: she, her own beauty, strong and powerfully unabashed and flawed and perfect and outside of something she thought she owned; i, that i had gotten distracted by it, and the surroundings had hardly anything to do with what i saw and framed that day. we had hiked through cold drizzle and concrete rubble and rebar and behind doors with growling junkyard dogs and past stacks of jersey walls to some semblance of shelter. and then i took out my camera and she took off her shirt and we got to work on the first of many of the more amazing hours of my life.
we were not in love with each other.
we were working together in curiosity to find out what we could make of ourselves, in stolen 1/125ths of seconds, through sharp 5.6 f-stops, underneath decaying canopies and a light misting. we had taken the streetcar all the way out there. we would end up buying a very expensive lunch at the first warm pub we found. and she stood in front of steel doors, laughing, and looking, and always curious. i liked myself when i saw what she saw, most of me hidden behind a big black box, straining to gain focus, flexing and nervous as the shutter first opened, and then closed.
sitting on her couch, it all seemed so unreasonable.
we were students, and kinda artsy, and there were plenty of much warmer places to get naked and make photographs than an industrial heap backing onto the gardiner expressway. and there was nary a trace of this heap in any of the images. you could see, sharp focus, detail, the goosebumps on her skin, frozen forever in silver in resin on paper in light, but there was nothing of the surroundings. why had we gone through such trouble when none of the trouble even showed up in the end?
i got distracted.
there was a whole lot of beauty happening in front of me and damned if i was going to lose a second of it to something else like a background or landscape context or a cheesey press-flesh-against-industrial-material has-been motif. my jaw was permanently dropped for that afternoon, and somehow i needed the concrete around us to hold me up. you can't see it in the prints. it's not obvious that we were cold or standing in the rain or mud or in and around a bunch of rubble and clay (mortar undone). but it's there.
i got distracted by a few other things too.
later on, i grew up and had a kid and got a job and had another kid and even managed to get married and start a career and all that grown-up stuff. i even manage to shoot a few frames every now and again, though nowhere near what happened underneath the shiny new condos that back onto the gardiner expressway with a down payment greater than my salary.
there is a lot of beauty to be had and seen and fostered and experienced in those other things, those moments that only happen when a baby wakes you up, or a five-year-old reads, or a small hand reaches for yours to dwarf it, tenderly. and it was in this profound beauty that i got distracted, again. i forgot to take in the surroundings and get some mortar and rebar and harvest some kind of structure to hold me up. there are other people to hold up. there are other hopes, much bigger and more important, to build.
so i've been distracted.
and now it's down to business. because i got called on it, and i reacted, and then i thought about it, and now i see: if i build my structure now, my little wonders will have a much better place to hope from. it looks utterly impossible, and that's just the kind of goal i'm built for. here we go.
Monday, June 17, 2013
in 1989, greg lemond was pedaling for his life in the penultimate stage of the tour de france, and he was doing it alone.
lemond entered the last stage of the race, an individual time trial between himself, his will, and the clock, with a 50-second deficit to french leader laurent fignon. wearing a funny helmet, resting his elbows on funny padded handlebar extensions, and tucked into a downhill skiing position, lemond insisted on no time checks, and no data on his bike. he just needed to pedal. fignon, for his challenge, went bare-skulled, with only his spectacles and scraggly blond ponytail to challenge the wind. riding a classic bike with frequent updates on lemond's pacing progress, fignon pitched himself through downtown paris in pursuit of the diminutive american challenger.
lemond put 58 seconds on fignon to win the tour by the narrowest margin in history, by riding the second-fastest time trial in tour history. lemond rode 54.55 km/h to win by 8 seconds.
at the 39k mark, the original 3:05 pace bunny and group caught up to me. i knew i was flagging and faltering, but i didn't realize by how much until i tried to latch on. it felt like the group was flying. nevertheless, i saw the possibility of losing every goal of the day as those feet churned past, so i did what any self-respecting cyclist about to get dropped would do: i tucked in. there wasn't much wind to tuck out of, but i tucked in nevertheless, adding myself to the (very reduced) count of white bald guys chasing a 3:05 marathon time. we must all be about the same age. we must all be chasing boston. please god let this man with the sign and the bunny ears get us there. please. please...
at the last water station, a measly kilometer from the finish, the group somehow slipped past, and i lost touch, gatorade cup in hand, dream splashing to the pavement. and i looked up. and i squinted to find a big red finish arch. and there was nothing. there was only a heat-bedazzled stretch of pavement, runners going forward, and runners coming onward, and it was endless.
there was no finish line!
that morning, i knew i was ready. i didn't know what i was ready for, if it was just to complete this crazy distance, or to go under 3 hours, something achievable by only 1% of runners in the world, or to at least make boston qualifying: 3:05:00. my girls wished me well. i had friends at the start. it wasn't raining. the portapotties were endless. it was going to be a good day.
i lost justin and the pace bunny by 4k.
i was on a good day, and i was going to make the most of it. i was flying. i had to tone it down, get it back up to 4 minute kilometers. i didn't want to burn out. but it was fine. it was almost easy. at the halfway timing mat, i was slightly behind schedule but certainly in good form to bring it in for any of my goals. the body was starting to pipe up, letting me know what was working, and how much longer it could do it. we were on the cusp now. there was oxygen and carbon and sweat and fascia and tendon and system. there was pump. and flow. and the clock was ticking.
i got closer to the horizon, searching wildly for some saving grace, some completion, some end. i saw the girls. we waved. i must be close. but i still could not see that damn line! and then there were runners coming at me, and we were turning, and we were back in another corral and THERE WAS THE LINE! except, it was so far away, and there were so many other people semi-rushing toward it, and i needed to step on that last timing mat, get my seconds, be done with so many months and miles.
and then it was done.
and as soon as it was, i wondered if i should have, could have, gone harder. maybe i could have pushed just a little bit more in those last few kilometers. maybe i could have hurt more, driven something past its comfort zone. and then my legs locked up and alternated between collapsing and locking, and i lost the ability to steer my body. stumbling into and through the throng of finishers toward the medals and gatorade table (the one salvation of the finish), i knew that i had done it, and there was nothing left. i was done. there was no room to go harder.
i couldn't find the girls. we hadn't made a plan. there were no huge alpha signs designating a 'find your family with last name _______ HERE' area. there were just hundreds and thousands of faces, some weighed down with oversized medals or plain bagels or the 25th half cup of too-strong gatorade. there wasn't even any chocolate milk. all of a sudden, i got really sad. i had run so far, for so long, and all i wanted to do was be with my family, and i couldn't find them. i had semi-collapsed into a sitting position on a grassy knoll near the 1k to go mark, so i butt-scooted to the nearest tree and hauled myself to standing. walking backwards down the ridiculously small decline, i started shuffling back to the finish area. after many trips into and out of the fencing marked 'athletes only', i finally found some small plastic signs listing a few alpha ranges. and there were the girls. and then i was done.
8 seconds is a staggering margin. in my debut marathon, after months of preparation and intervals and long runs and even following a training plan for the most part, i missed the boston qualifying time by 8 seconds. it is small, so small that most people ask, 'are you SURE?' when i tell them, and others offer to help with an appeal letter. yes, i am sure. no, there is no need to appeal. i will just have to run another marathon. and i'll have to run it faster.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
the man's enthusiasm and curiosity had always been contagious. i learned more from him on guts alone than i ever would from a text book or a conversation with a well-meaning, over-intentioned instructor. he led from beside, and sometimes from behind, but he was a companion with whom you could learn a lesson, any lesson, the hard way, and still feel like you had come out on top. when it was rock climbing, he went all-in. when it was cameras, he spent paper like it was tissue, and learned faster and better than anyone else how to process and print his own film. he read books that didn't come easy to him. he made acquaintances and awed them with his prowess in black and white and every zone in between. the whole time, i learned and listened and listened and yearned. there was always a frame to be exposed. there was always a point of interest. no one was uninteresting. curiosity could make anything cool enough. and perhaps his greatest gift of all: when you were the object of his curiosity, you felt like you were something worth knowing. few people in the world can make everyone they meet, let alone a few people they know and love, feel just this way. and inevitably, you would see yourself anew, and get fascinated by the potential only picked up by nicky's light meter, and then you could maybe start to risk being better.
being flamboyant had come naturally to me for some time. although i was naturally shy, i had learned that being 'a good kid' meant getting myself largely ignored, so i built up a persona of some kind of artsyness, and every now and again, it would come out. by the time high school rolled around, i had lost much of my flamboyance, opting instead to fly only on stage, or on trip, or when i just couldn't help it anymore. turns out, nicky taught me how to be a little more quiet. it was always his fantasy to be discovered, doing his own hardcore thing in his own hardcore way, by accident, in secret, by one person (probably a really hot girl) who would recognize, and subsequently admire, just what it took and who he was to be doing what he was doing, unbeknownst to anyone. i wanted to tell everyone. i never felt like anything i was doing was good enough or loud enough to get noticed, i still don't, and i wasn't tall or good-looking or long-haired or guitar-playing enough to be cool, in secret or out loud. and when people said, 'hey nick!', i learned to stop looking up, because they were always addressing him. flamboyance was over, so i saved it for the stage, or for words, for places where it could roam and jingle and not look as ridiculous as it was.
nicky taught me to be quiet. he taught me to contain my desires, to use them to drive my actions. he taught me to expose film, to shoot two frames in the quest for one good one, to print the hell out of that one until i got a good enough print, and to crop before i shot. he taught me about zones, about grain, about focus, about what is important and what to let go. the sharp end of a lens. the reason to push two stops. how many fruit gummies one should not eat in the middle of the night when it's minus forty in algonquin park. and even when we were walking down carlaw, wondering how the hell we would ever 'make it', ever get paid to do what we thought we were genius at (he was the only photo genius), when we were shooting completely different things and chasing different realities, he was leading from beside. we were complementing each other, tempering the drive with two different heats.
that night ended up with nicky happy and asleep in a big green tent, and me happy and sleepless in a big blue suburban. it was the end of an era, and i missed so much of it so terribly, and couldn't wait for the next one to begin in earnest. i find myself hearing nicky in my head these days, exposing my shots, meeting new people, maintaining curiosity. there will always be something fascinating. thanks, nicky.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
it had been a long time since i held a girl in my arms long enough and close enough to feel her sobs wrack through my ribcage and press against my beating heart while hers beat faster and harder.
usually, the pain is a scraped knee or bruised shin or scary tumble from the two-wheeler. this pain was different. and in this pain, i saw so many more such embraces, embraces that will never keep her from growing up, from learning something the hard way, from my failings and shortcomings and hopes and fears. she cried like the little girl she is, a little shocked and confused by something that hurts but not on the outside. and i held her like the father i am, a little inept and confused by how far we've come and how much this one moment could teach us both and why it had been so long since i held this crying little girl and how many more times i would do this same thing in years to come.
it all came down to big brown eyes flooded with the tears of a lesson learned the hard way.
the main problem was figuring what lesson there was to be learned. was it the lesson that she is loved, no matter what she does or does not do? was it the lesson that not everyone wins? was it the lesson that she always wins if she tries her best? was it the lesson that some things will only happen for her if she wants them badly enough and makes them happen? was it the lesson that her dada's arms will always be big enough to hold her? was it the lesson that racing is just racing, and having a family to support her is worth more than any spot on an elementary track team? maybe it was the lesson that she, as a seasoned 8-year-old 5k racer, has a different engine that is not well suited to the limits imposed by a single 100m dash with other giggling second graders...
i love that child more than myself and then some. i know she needs to learn things. i know that some of these things will hurt, and that she will be better for it. and i know that she is already amazing and a better human being than i will ever be. and it really cracks me up when she makes my faces on her mother's features. but when she hurts, when she falls apart in her school hoodie and soaks my shoulder with big, sad girl tears, it rips me apart and turns me upside down. i don't know what to teach her. i just want to hold her, help her up, give her something to eat, and go on. but this moment is important, so important, and it cannot be bypassed.
so we hugged, and she cried, and then we talked. there were snacks. the little sister took it upon herself to break down as well because she was also having a hard day and didn't want to miss out on the teary action. and then it was time to go swimming, and then talk to mama over pre-dinner frozen yogurt, to re-learn all of these lessons. dinner took so long that the little one was asleep while the big one stayed up with mama and dada and we managed to double team her, cover all points and angles we could think of, and reinforce the main point: she is loved, and wonderful, and none of this is compromised by a 100m dash on a sunny day in grade two.
Monday, April 29, 2013
catastrophe is a relief, a death of a tragic hero who has already wrought so much demise that the only blessing left to end it all is to end it all. progress is going forward. and in the split second between one step and the next, we are confronted with both. stop. or continue...
i have spent the entirety of this new year, and the month before it, confronting catastrophe and progress in their staggeringly repetitive possibility. one step after another, i have taken the long run from 12 kilometers to 34. yesterday marked my last 'long' run, and it was back to 12. between me and race day, there are only 13 more kilometers to run, divided up between rest days and angst days. i do not know exactly what will happen.
i have most recently tried to describe my apprehension as something akin to baking. i've put in my mileage, like flour. i've put in my speedwork, like eggs. i've put in short runs and tempo runs and stretching and foam rolling like all the other things that bring the cake together. the mix is right. it looks right. it feels right. but i have no idea how it will all turn out until i put it into the oven on race day. the unknown is a bit of a torture device. its effectiveness is increased with the amount of risk and the volume of the investment. i have worked this steadily and this hard and with this discipline for very few things in my life. and then there's that small problem of not having a smidge of running talent.
spending the day with underachieving youth is one way to galvanize one's personal mottos regarding the notion of quitting. don't. and settling? don't. with these things in mind, i tend toward my usual modus operandi: aim much higher than even conceivable to achieve, and die trying. this said, my goal is simple.
i left work that day and pedaled quickly and safely to pick up the girls and clunk home in my dirty mountain bike shoes, yellow duct tape highlights and trails of mud. the lady whose desk faces mine had a son in boston, a son who was there to run the marathon. it wasn't until i had already picked up one girl and was on my way to the next that i got the text, and started checking in with twitter and online news. someone had bombed the finish of the boston marathon.
my first reaction is usually anger.
there have been times that i've frozen, not really knowing what to do or where to go, but there are many more times that my first reaction is to curse the idiot who caused the pain, and then start trying to figure out what i can do to be productive about it all. of course, there was nothing in either case. boston didn't know who did this heinous crime or why, and there was nothing some random guy in toronto could do about a bombing in a city a thousand miles away. (i need to become more important.)
it has been a couple of weeks since the main conflict of the boston marathon bombing has been mostly resolved, and much of the world, as it does, has gone on. i had running club the next night, but there was no moment of silence. i talked about it a lot with the youth at work, but it was mostly aimless ranting among people who don't even run or know where boston is. it was good, nevertheless, to engage in dialog about it all, because it was in that conversation that the goal became bigger, more solid, tempered, and sharp.
the goal is to qualify for boston.
probably a whole lot of people want to qualify for boston. probably a whole lot of people can and will and have a lot more going for them than a few months of training, a young body cursed with a very fast qualifying cutoff, and a dream. but i think that the bombing, the audacious insanity of someone so overtly cowardly and hostile, calls up a little more inspiration to my fuel cell. i run better on emotion than any caffeinated gel or super-duper-e-load bottle. remember owen, the kid in the walker who covered 5k with a severe muscle disorder? i saw him in the last kilometer of my last half-marathon, and it was on sight of him alone that i managed to buck up and bring myself home, cheering and tearing that one brave kid. next year, boston will be nuts. chastened, perhaps, but nuts. i have a feeling it is a city not to be undone by one heartless tragedy, that it will come back even stronger, even louder, even bigger.
and i can't wait to be there.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
a lot of the long of it is about even more of the short of it, once around and once over and once around again, until the monotony becomes interesting again, but not too interesting because that would be pain, and there can only be so much of that before there is collapse.
and so it went, one foot (mostly) in front of the other a wind gusting like a strong palm into the middle of my back, headphone cord jostling wildly like an untethered lust song, whipping truths about with maladies, from underneath my red raincoat. raincoat. i went for a 33k run in a raincoat.
17k is no longer a long way to run, just like 80k is no longer a long ride, just like the end of P2A surprised me entirely, as i had not yet surrendered to the inevitability that i was bad at the sport and should just quit it all, at only 58k out. but then the wind. at 17k, exactly, promptly, somewhere between a rushing blue minivan and its silver sedan counterpart in stupidly-close-driving-to-pedestrians on aviation parkway, i turned around, and faced the wind that had been molesting me for the past hour and a half.
first, it ripped out one headphone, and lashed my insolent face with the cord. then it spat snow shards into my eyes, whistled through my empty ear, and threatened to dismember me of the member i could no longer feel, chafing compression wear be damned. the final point was a full-body shove in the direction opposite to my intended course. i actually had to brace, and almost step backward. being a short person, i am used to ducking and bracing, so i tucked in, faced the wind like a damn boxing opponent, and stepped forward in a staggering defiance, shoulders hunched and fists poised.
the wind had become a wild thing.
this spring has been anything but smooth. there are barely flowers and buds out, and most of them lie damaged in each other's arms, seeking solace from the fickly sunshine and ever-present rain. the girls wear rain boots more than running shoes. and my riding kit is always wet. my lady just asked me about yet another load of laundry, as she's done one a day since a double day before the weekend. it's wet. we're training. it's wet.
long runs combined with long nights combined with the daily stressors and detractors from downtime combined with every weekend away racing and running and running support have left us all a bit bedraggled. sleep is deep and hard and very, always, short.
and then, last night, nick told me i was running well. he hadn't seen me out last week, and i don't think he was at workout the week before, but then we did hill repeats last night, and it went well. there's a marathon in two weeks. the forecast looks (mostly) not-quite-wet. the goal is audacious. and i've left my bike to gather dust while i focus every bit of training on putting one foot in front of the other, a few thousand times, in three hours. don't tell anyone, but this goal is ridiculous.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
when i get real tired sometimes, i start to think too much, and then i listen to someone speak or watch a movie or hear that song that always gets me, and i think about goodbyes.
the trouble with goodbyes is that i used to be good at them. i used to be able to sense when they were coming, and i had the energy and awareness and connection and forethought to make the most of them, to prepare, to ceremonialize them into something worth remembering, something to write down, something to hold sacred and warm. i also used to be good at kissing, and writing punchy and sometimes decent poetry, and dancing. but like my film cameras and sketchbooks, those things are remnants of a past i remember fondly, while i dust them off to replace them on the shelf next to more books or under more bills. and those goodbyes, well, i've become afraid of them.
it all started when i fell in love with a girl who left all the time.
she had spent her life saying goodbye, had gotten used to it, had a well-worn hug and promise to call when she got in. then i found her, gave her my poems and tears and big, bleeding heart, and it was too heavy to take with her, so she stayed.
we kept moving, at least twice a year, in and out of student shanties, living the dream and making love out of the rest of it, and there were fewer and fewer goodbyes. i spent last week away from her, with our two little dreams, and it was a very hard place to be. now i'm tired, i saw my brother off at the airport this morning, then i watched a movie about brothers, and it's the end of the day, and i'm worried about the next goodbye.
my life is not in danger. no matter how many people pride themselves on risking it during my thirty minute commute in the morning, my life is pretty solid. fragile, indeed, but all parts point forth, and so it goes. i'm struggling though, these days, to figure out a grand goodbye, because to admit that it needs to be said would be to admit that something will end. there is a life in danger, maybe even ending, and this deserves a good hard talk, a true finale, a celebration of the good that was had. and from there, i don't even know where we go.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
jeni is dead. long live jeni.
the girls were dressed and matching and well-behaved and standing interspersed among the more serious adults in the congregation. the building was almost full. the sun streamed through several windows as the ceiling vaulted, albeit humbly and amid a few stains from incense or other offerings, toward something no one could explain, whether the sky, or heaven, or god, or a reason why jeni was no longer here.
i never really knew jeni.
but that's how things can go, sometimes, when you have 52 first cousins from 10 aunts and uncles, under a strong patriarch and matriarch, and then you move to another country before you turn nine, turn into a teenager, have your first kiss, fail your first date, pass your first football, learn what 'cancer' really is.
jeni had that special thing, that ability to disarm others with a genuine interest in what those others were about, and a seemingly boundless generosity that defied reason. when we had our first baby, two young kids out of wedlock (whatever that is) with a lot of ideals and not a lot of other stuff figured out, jeni was the first to send a matching knitted outfit for the little beast. she knew just what we needed, and, with whatever she had, she made it happen for us. i hadn't seen her in years.
jeni had another special thing: cancer. hers was leukemia, usually in her blood, usually fought off after many hospital stays and near-misses. ten days ago, her hospital stay was her last, the near was not a miss. jeni died at 4:48 in the morning, in the company of loved ones, at johns hopkins hospital in baltimore.
everything was fine in that half-beaten church in the middle of nowhere, maryland. loaded trucks rumbled by a few steps from the door. a cold wind refreshed the landscape. many people were smiling at the sight of loved ones they had not seen in so long.
and then the music started.
we cried. we cried so hard we shook ourselves and soaked our lapels and dripped onto the floor the salty proof that were were nothing but children against these things so unfair. others, perhaps those of greater constitution or those that didn't know her so well or those with their eyes not on the sons and brothers and mother of jeni, they could sing. and the music brought it all down. the girls were dressed in their matching black dresses, looking around at all of these dissolving adults, wondering at it all. what had happened? we had lost.
we had lost a strong, beautiful woman more giving than one could ever ask, stubborn and driven and unwilling to let things be anything other than right. we had lost jeni, the first of us, the oldest grandchild.
i had been in this church not long before, a year or two, dissolving in just the same way, about jake. jeni was jake's big sister. this is too much. too much for one family. too much in one go. too many times in one church for the same reason in the same suit stained by the same tears. the music started again as we followed jeni's casket outside, and i couldn't see through the tears to zip up my little girl's coat. it would be cold out by the grave. why did her own son have to carry her casket alongside her own brothers and husband? why was it so cold? why was everything so unfair? i could zip up my little girl's coat, tears or not, but jeni couldn't put a coat on her son. he was carrying her body to the cemetery. nothing made sense. nothing.
we made it outside, and i tried to sing, and i even made it through a few notes, and then i remembered that jeni wasn't here, and i squeezed my little girl's hand and pulled her along, little feet dappling the pavement among the trudging of older, grown-up, devastated children. you should have seen the nephews.
the monseigneur bumbled through further ramblings that had little to do with the pertinence or panache or power of jeni and her life and death, but all was not lost as a young pastor in love with his own words got up and made a lot more sense of it all. i could only wish for her husband to speak. of course, it would have ripped the rest of us apart completely. we laid her low. we sang. i dissolved and was, again, held up by my brother in the same cemetery where we'd stood just a year or so before. and now she is asleep, never to be hurt again.
as much as it is completely inadequate, the one thing that comforts me and my outlook on it all is the fact that wherever jeni may be, she is not somewhere where she can be touched by pain or cancer. she is warm. she is free.
long live jeni.
Friday, March 8, 2013
there was a survey out among students that spring, the usual class survey in which the graduates get named, alongside fan favorite teachers, as winners of the 'craziest hair award' or 'most likely to become a millionaire'. i was making my way through some final drawings in art class, the room transient amid the bustling preparations of our upcoming show, and a paper blew across the table. there were snickers. there were hushed glances and lookaways. i looked down at the paper, and saw that it was a creased, yellow photocopy so ubiquitous that week at school. it was the class survey.
i glanced at it because something about it caught my eye. and then there it was, my name, neatly printed and (ironically) spelled mostly correctly, next to the 'least favorite athlete' designation.
i was elated.
it is highly unlikely that heather mcleod had ever meant to make my day with the inclusion of my name on the survey, but she probably didn't know that i had never been called an 'athlete' before she did it. i smiled. i left the piece of paper where it was. and i walked through the door into the blinding pollen-thick sunshine just a step in the springtime blackflies. it felt like my birthday.
as these days go on and the sun makes more promises and keeps some of them too, nostalgia comes rushing back, and i get a bit stuck in it, trying to figure out how i've ever gotten here from there, and whether i've been good for it.
i would not call myself an athlete. kids ask me if i do sports. i respond with a perfunctory, 'sometimes'. they ask which ones. i tell them running and riding bikes. i'm not really good at either one, but i love them. i'm not a runner. runners consider themselves runners, pride themselves in it, look like it. i am also not much of a rider. for all of my time in the saddle and on the pedals over the last two decades, i have not gone very far. i know enough to know i don't know enough, and i love the way spokes ping after a wheel is fully tensioned or the way a top tube feels in my hand as i hoist a bike by its frame, but i don't go fast, i don't have any watts to speak of, and i think about bikes for more hours than i ride them.
anyway, it's about connotation more than denotation these days, and that's all about context. i just want to be physical. maybe that's what athletes want. maybe they just need to be in one moment and the next, as fully and quickly as possible, maximizing their presence in context, breathing through their skin, seeing through their movements. let's move.
Friday, February 8, 2013
when riding bikes in a group of people, personalities mix with physical attributes and get imposed upon the collective ranking categories to result in a hierarchical setting in which momentum runs its course and the rest of us do our jobs. there is the big guy who hammers and provides a great draft for the skinny guy who will come round on the next slight rise and bring tempo that will be easily be matched by the woman in high socks who watches her watts and worries about the handling skills of a jittery accountant in matching team kit on a matching team bike that refuses to match his team drive when it's interrupted by the out of tune chatter of a chain about to be dropped after the next rider in line finally figures out his new shifter combo and tries, then fails, to calculate his effort and its relationship to gear inches. riding. it's complicated.
when i get on the bike, or get off the bike, or go out to just ride, or come in to refuel or put on my helmet or unbuckle my shoes on smear on the chamois creme or rinse off the searing embrocation or lather my calves or dispose of another dull razor or fill my bottles or tuck another wrapper into my pocket or put my bike in the trainer or wash all that grime off of my legs or put it all into words, i am alone. the lady i love does all of these things too, some of them better than i, and she does them alone. somehow, we signed up for all of this. somehow, we spent the best parts of ourselves making a life together, making little dreams come true together, living a big dream come true, outlining the outcomes and plans and necessities, only to do our parts in it all, alone.
i'm not sure if anyone else gets it this way, but there are a few things i don't like to do unless i know that i will do them well. i don't like to run unless i know i will be able to keep up. i don't like to dance unless i know that it won't matter that i don't know how. writing this is almost nauseating in the knowing that i may not get it right, the first time, for good. i know that i will not ride well with my lady. to begin with, she has twice the fitness that i have on the bike. i suffered through thirty minutes on the trainer with very low outputs the other night; she put in an hour and a half of zone five intervals then got up in the morning to do it again. we have different riding styles. i like short and punchy climbs; she savours long hauls. i hate time trialling; she pines for aero bars and disc wheels and the simplicity of punching the pedals against seconds and minutes. i handle like a mountain biker on a road bike; she prefers to keep things smooth, and only started tucking her descents three seasons ago. my bike is the heaviest metal bikes are made out of, welded by one man in america, a tube at a time, to my measurements; her bike comes from taiwanese factories, a layer of carbon at a time, to be painted in italy, assembled in canada. she sweats and goes harder; i've had salt lines on my kit since kilometer three. of all the sports i do (there are two), riding bikes is the one i do the worst, by far. individually, it's fine enough. in a group, i'm average or below. in a race, i'm subpar. in the grand scheme of things, my name is not listed. the lady is a star, an exemplar. she is part of the industry. she advocates and has the skill and fitness to back it all up. she is in the top 5 in a race. she is in the fast group, or leading it, on a club ride. there is no way i could ride well with her.
we were made for each other.
i remember a time, a long long time ago, when she was a climber and i was a rider and we did each other's sports because we loved each other so much. i dropped a couple hundred bucks on climbing kit; she made me a chalk bag and dropped a grand on a fancy mountain bike. we tried to go out for a ride on the root-infested trails of lowland squamish, b.c. we got lost. i tried to help her with some handling tips. it sucked. we didn't fight then, but we both smouldered silently, me wanting to help and her wanting to not need help.
these days i train to be able to keep up. i have no idea what it's like to train to win. but i think that if i can do it, if i can pull it off, one trainer session at a time, it will make all the difference. if we could get a babysitter and leave the dishes and have an extra ten spot for some espresso and a brownie and get some gas and just go, just ride, just be, together, we'd be set. i could keep up or let her go and catch her on the descent the way my dad used to catch me on rockingham road. we could spin and laugh and let momentum take its course. we could shine.
this is the first time i've been able to lean back in my seat today, and most other days in the week.
it snowed today. it snowed so much that in the few minutes it took me to shovel our miniscule front walk and portion of the sidewalk, the first areas i had cleared were already white again, yielding not to the ground-in salt or the wind that brought it and threatened to take it away on the next gust.
in these kinds of conditions, riding a studded-tire mountain bike in goggles and blinking lights is an excellent idea for getting to work. fresh snow is usually easier to ride in than the packed-until-it-gives-way snow usually found on uncleared roads frequented by four-wheeled commuters come hell or high snowbanks. of course, fresh snow covers 85% of my bike route, and is perfectly good and safe. it's the 7.5% at the beginning and the other 7.5% at the end that truly worry me: that's where the cars are. and cars can't stop. they don't know this, of course, until it's too late, and all lessons are learned the hard way on days like today.
all this, to say: i took the subway.
this blog was founded on the notion of riding bikes, and how that practice links to human pursuits of all other dimensions, so it's odd to break a dry spell on the one day i'm not actually riding bikes. the fact of the matter is, this break from churning pedals through salt-crusted tracks has given me pause. i don't like being able to lean back in my seat.
most other days, i arrive at work well before the main rush, and i am soaked in sweat and covered in road grime, usually salt. having no showers available to the lone bike commuter, and no area in which i may drape my clothes in the hopes of drying them before my return trip in the afternoon, i work all day in the residue of the morning's effort, and my kit hangs in evidence all over the collective office space. i kinda feel bad for that; i kinda can't bother to fix it.
not having ridden today, the back of my chair is covered in dry outerwear that was not soaked in the sweat of an honest commute. i took the subway, stood next to all kinds of people i don't know in a rumbling embrace punctuated by squeals of metal on metal, and that kid's headphones screeching some poorly done remix of a 'classic' that came out before 'vintage' even existed. goodness, i'm old. i think this, and type this, as i lean back against the dry liner of a thick parka that is so warm i had to take it off and hold it after the subway cleared out, trembling on toward the next wintry station. i'm typing on a computer i could bring in because i wasn't afraid of falling on hidden ice and smashing it along with all the other contents of my backpack. i'm full from the lunch i just ate, and i'll have to work it off tonight because i haven't done anything other than trudge through snowbanks for minutes at a time. commuting sucks. riding bikes is beautiful.