Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.74 of the ^zhurnal (that's Russian for "journal") — see ZhurnalyWiki for a Wiki edition of individual items; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about; see Random for a random page. Briefly, this is the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.73 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ... RSS
"How can you make a name for yourself if you're reasonable?" a smart speaker observed at a meeting I attended on Friday. Folks who are wise—who present a nuanced position, who see multiple sides to a problem—don't get recognized. They take too long to get to the point. They don't offer a quick fix. In contrast, those who take extreme positions and grandstand in sound bites are quoted in the media and sell "product"—no matter how wrong they are. "Make Money Fast", "Lose Weight Instantly and Effortlessly" (and their famously obscene brethren) are typical spam subject lines, not "Increase Your Understanding of a Complex Issue".
(hmmm ... how can I state the above more violently, so it gets more readers? cf. EducationVersusEduction (1999-04-30), IsaiahBerlin (2005-11-24), DiscussionAndDialogue (2006-01-07), ...)
- Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 05:53:34 (EST)
Comrade CM's recent remarks on Perseverance remind me of a nelogism that stuck in my mind a few decades ago: cupcakable. The first usage I've been able to find is by Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl and editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. In a 1970 interview with Nora Ephron, Brown said:
You cannot sit around like a cupcake asking other people to come around and eat you up and discover your sweetness and charms. You've got to make yourself more cupcakable all the time so that you're a better cupcake to be gobbled up.
I suppose what that means is that, at least during the 1960s era, Brown thought women needed to use make-up, clothing, etc. to lure a man. But that doesn't matter! What counts is that it's a great example of a never-before-used wonderful word that's instantly understandable. Isn't language wonderful?
(... or maybe what counts is what it says about me and the things that stick in my mind?!)
- Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 05:44:27 (EST)
A doe tap-dances across Beach Drive in front of me and waves her white-flag tail as the gibbous moon nestles down into the clouds. Half a mile later a mound beside Rock Creek Trail unfolds into another deer in my flashlight's beam. It's 5:15am on a warm February morn and Cara Marie Manlandro, Mistress of Sandbagging, has cancelled plans to run with me, feigning fatigue after a long night of working on her thesis proposal. So I'm cruising alone, accompanied by rippling sounds from the waters when the path goes near the stream. It's my last run before the Washington's Birthday Marathon with CM in one week.
Yesterday's USATF National Cross Country Championships featured a stirring sprint-to-the-finish-line duel between Meb Keflezighi, silver medalist at the Athens Olympics marathon, and young Tim Nelson. As a volunteer escort I had a chance to be near both, and the proximity has temporarily shamed me into less laziness. Today's brisk pace—OK, maybe I'm sandbagging a wee bit and it's closer to 10 min/mi than 10.5—is the result. As I climb Cedar Lane I briefly consider jogging past comrade Ken Swab's home, tossing pebbles at his bedroom window, and asking if he can come out to play. But I refrain and turn instead down Old Georgetown Rd toward Bethesda.
A fire truck politely bleeps its siren at an intersection, then zooms northward in silence. An ambulance follows the same pre-dawn protocol. Onward I trot. Ice on the Capital Crescent Trail provides moments of heart-thumping excitement. If only the rich neighbors of the CCT spent as much effort maintaining what they claim to be their beloved trail as they spend fighting against mass transit along the route!
- Friday, February 20, 2009 at 05:42:21 (EST)
During a panel discussion a few days ago a new comrade, who looks rather prim and proper, surprised me when she described the best advice she ever got. She was tossed into an unexpectedly challenging assignment, and was told:
|Suck It Up, Cupcake!|
(cf. SelfReliance (1999-06-16), ...)
- Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 05:57:25 (EST)
It's as though somebody held a wild party at my own house, but never invited me—and somehow I slept right through it, then woke up amidst the wreckage! I've just learned about the Great Vowel Shift. Nobody ever told me that English pronunciation changed abruptly (on linguistic time scales) between the years 1400 and 1700 or so. Before that, vowels sounded like those in most European languages (Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, etc.). After it, "long" vowels moved up a notch and took over different sounds, pronounced more toward the front of the mouth. When Chaucer wrote f-e-e-t it was said the way we now say fate; when he wrote t-w-o it rhymed with the way we still say so, and likewise for him p-o-s-t and c-o-s-t were rhymes. It's hard even to write about. And it all happened within relatively few generations. Maybe a new-pronunciation meme spread suddenly because of the Black Plague, or the wars with the French, some folks speculate. Wild stuff, which I never suspected could happen in "my own language" ...
(cf. , , , , Valentine's Day 2009 (2009-02-14), ...)
- Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 04:59:29 (EST)
Many months ago Peter Steinfels's "Beliefs" column (NYT, 2008-05-24 ) concluded with part of a John Stuart Mill comment from On Liberty which in full reads:
... However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.
Steinfels quotes Mill in the course of reviewing a book by Austin Dacey called The Secular Conscience. It's about the need to wrestle with tough moral and ethical issues in society. Some examples mentioned: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, and Islamic fundamentalism. Dacey doesn't disagree with current mainstream positions on these topics. But he thinks the topics should be open to criticism—not sidestepped by saying that "moral judgments" are personal and subjective, not to be analyzed or criticized in public debate. He argues in favor of a "moral vision" for modern Western political systems: "Secular values can turn a society inside out. In Post-Christian Europe, entire nations have been plunged into endemic health, skyrocketing education, and hopelessly low rates of violent crime."
From the little I've read about Dacey I can't claim to properly understand his positions, but they sound important, provocative, perhaps even entertaining. Add another book to my too-long to-read list ...
(cf. Cardinal Newman (2001-10-04), Tolerance and Pacifism (2001-10-08), DogTicket (2006-06-13), Worth of a State (2008-04-02), Buddhism Without Beliefs (2008-10-31), Atheist Spirituality (2009-01-29), ...)
- Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 04:57:48 (EST)
Back at her car after today's run, Mary Ewell accidentally calls me "Babe!"—and then laughs at herself. She explains that some years ago she started a trend in the work group she was in, which spread until everybody was calling everybody "Babe". I confess to planting some similar catch-phrase memes around the office, like "No worries!" and "Ciao!". We chuckle together, then head over to the Silver Spring Food Coop to buy our families some groceries.
Hours earlier this morning Caren Jew and I meet at Candy Cane City to chat and catch up on news; Ken Swab and Mary arrive soon thereafter. Nick of the delightful British accent, whom I lent my Superman cap to a fortnight ago at the 2009-01-17 - Super Starr, arrives to run with a fast-paced group. He poses for my cellphone camera with his Rock & Roll Marathon Series medal around his neck. I admire his Boston Athletic Association windbreaker and, under duress, he admits to have run the Boston Marathon three times. I express envy.
It's shortly after 8am when Caren & Ken & Mary & I commence our trek down Beach Drive. The road surface is ice-free but the bikepaths are slippery-dangerous with melted and refrozen surfaces. We share ibuprofen ("Vitamin I"); I had 2 before heading out, and Mary takes a few now to help keep her hip inflammation and other twinges under control. She drops one tablet on the road and picks it up with an, "It's clean!" As we trot along Mary tells us of her upcoming wedding plans and various subsets of us reminisce and gossip and trade anecdotes.
At Broad Branch Rd, 4.5+ miles downstream, Ken and Caren decide to go onward and add some miles while Mary and I turn back. We accelerate slightly during the return trip but also add in some walk breaks on the hills. After Military Rd we see the Valley Trail sign for the branch up the hill to the east. Mary & I both deliberately run a few steps along it so we can honestly if misleadingly tease Ken & Caren: "We sped up after we left you and ran on the Valley Trail for part of the way back!"
- Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 07:39:49 (EST)
| Thys day of Valentyne seinte|
Hathe many custom queynte.
Amonges is the loveres kysse,
A ritual we never mysse:
Full thirty yeares marriage swete
Our lippes touche when we grete.
And if another thirty moore
Be granted us by God, I swoore
Thys old tradicioun persyst,
As you and I contynue blissed!
(in imitation of Geoffrey Chaucer; roughly, as I understand it, in Middle English vowels are short, not long, and "e" at the end of a word is pronounced; crudely translated into modern English: This day of Valentine, saint / Has full many a custom quaint. / Among them is the lover's kiss, / A ritual we never miss: / For thirty years of marriage sweet / Our lips do touch when e'er we greet. / And if another thirty more / Are granted us by God, I swear / In this tradition to persist, / As you and I continue blessed! ; cf. ValentineWish (2002-02-14), MyValentine2004 (2004-02-14), ...)
- Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 05:44:14 (EST)
From the chapter "Aiming and Sustaining" of Jon Kabat-Zinn's book Coming to Our Senses:
This sustaining is known in Sanskrit as samadhi, that focused quality of mind that is one-pointed, concentrated, and if not utterly unwavering, it is at least relatively stable. Samadhi is developed and deepened as the normal agitated activity of our minds stills itself through the continued exercise of our ability to recognize when the mind has wandered off the agreed-upon object of attention, in this case the breath, and to bring it back over and over again, without judgment, reaction, or impatience. Simply aiming, sustaining, recognizing when the sustaining has evaporated, then re-aiming and again sustaining. Over and over and over and over again. Like the fins of a submarine or the keel on a sailboat, samadhi stabilizes and steadies the mind even in the face of its winds and waves, which gradually abate as they cease being fed by our inattention and our veritable addiction to their presence and content. With the mind relatively steady and unwavering, any object we hold in awareness becomes more vivid, is apprehended with greater clarity.
- Friday, February 13, 2009 at 04:58:56 (EST)
I'm often amazingly slow to catch on to certain jokes, particularly when some slight parsing of implicit naughtiness is required. Maybe that tells something about me, though precisely what I don't know. Recently, for example, it took me almost a full minute to start laughing and say, "Oh, I get it!" when I heard a rumored exchange with the famously-obese Winston Churchill. Supposedly someone told him, "Sir, if I saw a belly like yours on a woman, I would think she was pregnant." Sir Winston replied, "It was, and she is!"
And for another example of my naïveté consider the late actor Dudley Moore's remark in a 1983 Playboy magazine interview. (Yes, some of us used to read the articles.) It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out. On his relationship with 5'11" Susan Anton, 5'2" tall Sir Dudley commented, "I go up on Susan!"
(for other examples of my blockheadedness cf. HeavySleeper (2001-11-19), OffWeek (2003-10-25), ...)
- Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 04:50:29 (EST)
The car radio plays a 1980 Bob Seger song as I drive homeward: "Against the wind / We were running against the wind / We were young and strong, we were running / Against the wind" and later the lyric "I was living to run and running to live". The same piece offers the thoughtful, "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then." Don't we all, sometimes!
Ken Swab meets me at 8am Saturday morning at Carderock on the C&O Canal. We're the only two cars in the parking lot, and temperatures are in the low 20's with a northwest breeze. The path to the canal is clean of snow and I start to feel optimistic, but when we reach the towpath itself we discover that Christina Caravoulias was precisely right: it's an almost-continuous sheet of ice-covered snow in both directions. I think seriously about punching out, since I have no desire to fall and break another bone. But at Ken's insistence we head upstream, into the wind.
My left metatarsals have been troubling me for the past day; they don't hurt during the run but start to ache again during the walk back to the cars. I've taken 4 ibuprofens on Friday night and pop another 4 early this Saturday morning. Maybe it's my non-running stride that stresses the foot bones? We see dramatic views of the Potomac River and the rocky cliffs of its southern shoreline, including Great Falls, Mather Gorge, etc. in Virginia on the other side of a big island midstream. I remember running there with Ken and Mary and Caren more than a year ago. As the sun rises increasing numbers of runners meet us, plus dog-walkers and in one case a dog-carrier. At one point the canal has been washed out, as of September 2008 according to signage. Our route diverts briefly via an earthen dam to the opposite side of the ditch.
A skater glides silently along the frozen surface of the canal. I slip repeatedly but manage to recover and avoid falling. Ken is more sure-footed. We crunch along noisily, trying to gain traction by breaking through the surface crust to the snow layer beneath. Ken describes a Thursday summer-evening MCRRC running group that meets here, runs to a point upstream of where we are, goes across and returns on the opposite side via a small road/path that we can see on the hillside. After a bit over 2.5 miles we reach a wooden bridge/walkway and turn around.
A big pack of walkers/hikers meet us as we approach our starting point, and now 20 cars are parked in the lot. Small icicles have formed on our moustaches and my beard. If the mile markers are right we're averaging 12-12.5 min/mi outbound and a surprising 11-11.5 pace on the way back to our starting point.
- Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 05:10:42 (EST)
Every so often when I'm out running I catch myself gathering material for the write-up: a quote-of-the-day, a funny image, a descriptive phrase, etc. Sometimes when I see a mile marker I'll speed up to make a particular split time look particularly fast. But what really counts, of course, isn't what goes into the logbook—it's what you do, even if no one remembers it ...
(cf. WhatCounts (1999-11-24), Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), ...)
- Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 05:06:52 (EST)
From the chapter "Concentration" in Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are:
Concentration can be of great value, but it can also be seriously limiting if you become seduced by the pleasant quality of this inner experience and come to see it as a refuge from life in an unpleasant and unsatisfactory world. You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.
- Monday, February 09, 2009 at 12:01:48 (EST)
|"All field mark" is how Roger Tory Peterson describes the bald eagle in his Field Guide to the Birds. The Eagle Run is a chance to see a few of these dramatic creatures. The event is a traditional Virginia Happy Trails Running Club movable feast, a peripatetic party held mid-January around and about the Mason Neck peninsula in northern Virginia. Gary Knipling, one of the more "seasoned" members of the club, invites runners to his home there early Sunday morning. Those who brave the elements spend the day jogging through woods, looking for eagles, learning local history, eating pizza, and just having fun together.|
This year is Eagle Run XVII, comrade Kate Abbott's first and my second. Temps begin in the teens and rise to ~30°F by noon. Kate's braids freeze, as they did at the VHTRC "Red Eye" race on New Year's Day. Sweat drips down the sides of my head to form icicles on my sideburns. Brrrrrr!
Always-smiling Gary gives a frosty pre-race briefing near the fire ring outside his house, after which a gaggle of several dozen hardy souls takes off downhill through the woods. The Eagle Run course is informal and winding, marked by blue ribbons dangling from tree limbs, with plenty of alternative routes for those who want to go "short" (10+ miles), "medium" (20ish), or "long" (25+). We first head toward the southwest to overlook Belmont Bay, then loop back north past horse farms and stables to cross Gunston Rd and enter Pohick Bay Regional Park.
|Kate meets Caroline Williams, a lovely and voluble ultrarunner who tells us about her childhood and admits to having finished one 100 miler. She has another in her sights this spring. We chat and resolve to attempt some training runs together. In the fields beside us a cluster of horses commence running as they see us trot by, happy to find some unexpected company this winter morning.|
Along the shore of the Pohick Bay we trek eastward, pausing frequently to peer across the water at little dots on the surface. A few are large, dark-bodied, with white heads: probable eagles. Likewise other dots perch in trees on the far side of the water.
|Then surprise: an eagle sits on a branch near us! The group is spread out now, and a cluster of us creep cautiously past on the trail to circle around. I snap pictures furiously. The bird becomes nervous, shifts, then flies away.|
We continue uphill, inland to where a pick-up truck with munchies and drink meets us on a park road. I introduce myself to Karen, a relatively new trail runner. She's US Air Force, born in Minnesota and until recently stationed in South Dakota. We talk about the Mount Rushmore Marathon that she's run and other local events worth checking out.
The path takes us down and up, cross-country through fallen leaves, over roots and rocks, across small streams, and along the edge of dry meadows. I devoutly try to follow the "short" signage as I lug my 35mm digital camera equipped with an obsolete manual zoom lens. Alas, Kate and Karen and Caroline shame me into doing at least one "medium" segment.
|We arrive early at Gunston Hall, the house George Mason built in the late 1750s on his plantation down the river from George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. From there we continue along steep paths to a point on the shore for a group photo, then gather again at Gunston Hall for a mini-lecture by a Park Service docent. This year's commentary focuses on the architecture and geography of the area.|
|A mass feeding-frenzy ensues upon the pizza's arrival. When that subsides Caroline decides to continue onward with the group for additional mileage. Kate and I run to the waterfront for another look at the bay. Then we head through the woods to Kate's car. On the way a lone eagle swoops low over us.|
|Today Kate covers 14.5+ miles according to her GPS; I log 12ish since I skipped several side trails she took. We pose for an experiment in self-timer photography with my camera propped crookedly on another car in the parking lot, then continue our conversation on the way back to her home, where I get to greet her three cheerful sons plus Xena and Knuckles, the family dog and cat. It's a great day; I only feel a slight soreness on the right kneecap after yesterday's long run. And I don't fall down even once!|
|Tights armor runners against cold.|
Beer armors runners against embarrassment.
(cf. Eruption of Birds for a fortuitous shot of gulls taking off from the icy surface of Pohick Bay during this year's Eagle Run; see  for a photo album of Eagle Run 2009 images that I took; see Thirteen Eagles for a photo essay on the 2008 Eagle Run)
- Saturday, February 07, 2009 at 17:28:40 (EST)
A physicist-comrade in graduate school, Carl Caves, preceded me by a year or two at our alma mater Rice University. In the early 1970s, Carl used to say, one could get by for weeks as an undergrad using only the "seven dirty words" that George Carlin made so famous. Perhaps just a subset of them would suffice, he thought.
Personally I've always avoided using foul language as much as possible. Maybe I'm a Victorian pantywaist fop at heart, but obscenity sounds so uncivilized and impolite. It's like dropping a glass in the midst of dinner-table conversation to get someone's attention. Sure, these are only sounds, arbitrary symbols associated with scatological, blasphemous, or sexual things. But I like to reserve them for when they're really needed—which is almost never. Yes, on a recent trail run I did slightly startle (and amuse) friend Caren Jew by using an extraordinarily naughty word. But, as I pointed out, the term was inside quote-marks, a literal citation of someone else. So it wasn't really me saying "that word". It's the philosophical "use-mention distinction", the difference between the meaning of a word and the word-as-object itself. See Alice in Wonderland for good examples.
But even though I find crudity in English highly unæsthetic I'm nevertheless fascinated by it in other languages, especially Russian. Maybe it's my anthropological/linguistic sense of curiosity? Half a dozen years ago, for instance, a New Yorker magazine "Letter from Moscow" by Victor Erofeyev caught my eye. The piece was titled "Dirty Words" (cf. 2003-09-15, p. 42) and provided a analytic overview of Russian swearing, mat. A language blog critiqued that article. Currently Wikipedia, the mother lode of human wisdom, offers an article devoted to mat. And there's even a web domain, russiancursing.com, dedicated to teaching the fine art to beginners. It comments:
... Strictly speaking, mat is a language built upon five (5) extremely vulgar roots. Using the rules of Russian grammar and word formation, verbs, adjectives, and nouns of every kind can be formed—entire sentences (and diatribes) composed exclusively of mat vocabulary. Days to learn, a lifetime to master. ...
Shades of Carl's observation about undergrad life!
- Friday, February 06, 2009 at 05:25:15 (EST)
Last year the New Zealand Fish and Game magazine commented :
... The goose digestive system, unlike that of most other herbivores, is incapable of digesting fibre. With a limited breakdown of plant cell walls, food passage is rapid resulting in a goose producing 160 droppings per day. ...
Alas, my own digestion has developed goose-like speed for the past few days, whether due to food poisoning, influenza, or unknown other cause. Fortunately the malady struck before the winter/spring marathon and ultra season. After sleeping 16 hours a couple of days ago and 12 hours yesterday the headaches are gone and I'm feeling close to normal. I've lost a few kilos, but they will come back too quickly. My personal tea-lemonade-salts electrolyte formula seems to be keeping me hydrated, and I'm subsisting on a "BRAT" diet of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. (No, BRAT does not stand for Beef, Radishes, Anchovies, and Tabasco sauce.) An unrelated issue is the mysterious hip bruise that I developed after a fall during the 2009-01-19 - PHT Valkyrie trail run. It still lingers, faintly, which makes me suspect that I might have actually cracked the pelvis. But there are no other symptoms besides a slight soreness in the area; perhaps like my Humerus Fracture it will heal on its own. Really, if this is all I have to complain about then I've got no problems. Thank goodness!
- Thursday, February 05, 2009 at 13:57:59 (EST)
"If you don't run up the steps I'll write in my report, 'And CM did not run up the steps!'" I threaten Cara Marie Manlandro as we stand at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. We've just trotted a dozen miles and we have almost as far yet to go. This day will be CM's longest pedestrian journey ever (though she has swum farther) and it would be sensible to take it easy. So of course, she climbs the big marble stairs with me. We reach the top, salute Abe's statue, circle a pillar, and trot back down—taking care not to fall on the slippery stone.
Obscured by clouds, the sun is rising behind the Capitol in front of us. We run the length of the Reflecting Pool on its southern side, past an infinite line of plastic porta-johns from the Presidential inauguration four days ago. As we approach the Washington Monument I critique the design of the WWII monument there. We cross to the north side of the Pool and begin the second half of our journey.
The temperature is 49 degrees but falling when at 5am we start today's trek. Brisk north winds blow in our faces as we head up Beach Dr to join the Capital Crescent Trail at Jones Bridge Rd. We maintain a steady 11-12 min/mi pace here, keeping energy in reserve so we can accelerate and finish strong. The goal is to do 23+ comfortable miles, CM's last and longest run before her first marathon, knock on wood the Washington's Birthday event next month.
Since she has a major lecture to deliver in a few days I invite CM to practice on me—we've got plenty of time! So the first hour on foot passes quickly as I learn about the P53 tumor suppressor gene and its negative regulator MDM2, cancer and apoptosis, IC50 and Kd, how to pronounce the word "phages", and more. We have a minor off-topic debate over how many pairs of human chromosomes there are (I think my guess, 23, is right). I'm distracted, but don't mention it, by Freudian imagery of tiny molecules nestling into the cozy clefts on gynormous proteins. In spite of my silly interruptions and even without vugraphs the lecture is a good one; CM will have no trouble delivering it to her departmental audience next week, I reassure her. (That assessment turns out to be correct.)
Pre-dawn darkness is moderated by city lights reflecting off the clouds, and for the most part we don't need to use the flashlight that CM carries. We cruise alone down the CCT through Bethesda, until after half a dozen miles a fast runner zips by. His red flashing tailights amuse me as he recedes into the distance in front of us. A few minutes later he reappears going in the opposite direction. One other early-morning jogger with similar red lights clipped to the back of his shirt meets us a little later, as we enter DC. Otherwise, the night belongs to us. When CM finishes her biochemical presentation we trot together quietly for a while, with occasional conversation about training, family, friends, etc.
After the CCT drops us off at the Georgetown waterfront we pass the Thompson Boat Center and the Kennedy Center, do our hillwork at Mr. Lincoln's feet, and orbit the Reflecting Pool. My water supply is running out now so I'm thrilled to find a working water fountain just north of the Memorial. I pause to refill my bottle there and feel comforted thereby for the rest of the run. We head up Rock Creek Pkwy and soon reach the National Zoo. Today the tunnel's narrow sidewalk, with noisy cars blasting by a few inches away, isn't as scary as it usually is. CM leads the way and afterwards observes that running toward traffic seems safer. A mass of Team in Training folks are gathered near Pearce Mill at Porter Rd, all bundled up, preparing to do 10 miles. I shush myself when a pair passes us, chattering about the length of their run. (No Pride! No Attachments!)
After 20 miles we're getting a wee bit worn. My quads and hip flexors tighten up a bit, and CM has some foot cramps, but overall we're doing well. CM claims fatigue but nevertheless accelerates to sub-10.5 min/mi pace now, in spite of the hills we're climbing. She has subsisted on four packets of sports beans, and I've sucked down a similar number of chocolate energy gels. Both of us have been drinking electrolyte liquids and taking salty capsules at hourly intervals.
When CM's GPS says 23.0 miles my watch says 4:12, an average pace of a bit over 11 min/mi. We keep running to the 23.1 mile point, CM's goal today so all that will be left to make a sub-5-hour marathon is 5 km. The temperature has fallen 10 degrees by the time we finish. Of course, as I always caution CM, much depends on weather and course conditions on race day, and injury is always a trump card. So we shall see how her first marathon goes. Thus far, her training is, as she puts it, PFA!
(cf. Lincoln Memorial (2004-01-06), Marble Steps (2008-11-06), ...)
- Wednesday, February 04, 2009 at 04:36:23 (EST)
A person's interests shift as the years go by. In grad school a friend noted that physicists, when they get old, become cosmologists. They ponder the universe as a whole instead of lesser things. He was joking—maybe. My own interests have certainly changed over the years. For the first few decades the big three were:
I spent countless hours immersed in each: in the back yard with binoculars or telescope; bent over a chessboard analyzing positions; reading mountains of SF books from the local library. Other topics were peripheral distractions. (cars? girls? money? music? drugs? sports? not for me!)
Times change; work and family force a shift in priorities. When those began to quiet down, for a while recreation to me meant watching baseball and collecting coins. Both are still entertaining, as are the old reliables astronomy, chess, and science fiction. But perhaps life memberships in the US Chess Federation and the American Numismatic Association weren't really such great "investments" as they seemed at the time. My big three have evolved—thank goodness! Top of the list now and for the past 5-15 years:
Yesterday insightful Caren Jew correctly diagnosed me once again. "Mark," she said as we ran along Rock Creek, "you really like people."
"No, I hate people," I disagreed, "I've just learned to fake it well!" I was joking—maybe. The universes of science fiction, chess, astronomy, numismatics, and baseball are pristine and orderly. People are complex, puzzling, flawed, frustrating animals. Immanuel Kant (whom I need to read some day) said, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made." Alexander Pope (ditto) observed, "The proper study of Mankind is Man." Maybe, belatedly, I'm starting to learn.
(Hmmm ... instead of "Man" in Pope's poem, shouldn't that be "Woman"? Alas, the change would spoil the iambic pentameter. "Girl" is too flip and breaks the rhyme with the previous line. Ugh!)
- Monday, February 02, 2009 at 18:19:56 (EST)
From the chapter "Meditation is Not For the Faint-Hearted" in Jon Kabat-Zinn's Coming to Our Senses:
Here and now, everywhere and always, gives us a lot of room for working together, that is, if you are interested and willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work of the timeless, the work of non-doing, the work of awareness embodied in your own life as it is always unfolding moment by moment. It is indeed the work of no time at all, and the work of a lifetime.
(cf. Wherever You Go, There You Are (2008-10-26)
- Sunday, February 01, 2009 at 05:18:19 (EST)
|Kate Abbott and Mark Zimmermann at the midpoint of their odyssey along the Potomac Heritage Trail, 19 January 2009. The trail follows the south bank of the Potomac River between Theodore Roosevelt Island and the American Legion Bridge of the Capital Beltway (I-495).|
"The Ride of the Valkyries" by Richard Wagner plays on the classical radio station as I drive to this morning's long trail run. In Norse mythology a valkyrie is a warrior-maiden who picks up fallen heroes from the battlefield and carries them to Valhalla, the chief god Odin's hall. When I arrive at the trailhead friend Kate Abbott awaits, her hair in nordic braids. She wears gauntlets on her hands and a helm-like cap on her head. Her mother's family name is Wagner. With my long gray beard I look like Odin. (I haven't given up an eye for wisdom, but I am quite nearsighted on one side—does that count?) A few months ago Kate picked me up when I stumbled and broke an arm on the Appalachian Trail.
Is Kate a valkyrie, sent here to rescue me again? There are too many coincidences for comfort! I begin to worry when, only 4.5 minutes into our 6-hour trek, I step on what I think is a quartzite vein in a boulder. It's actually a patch of ice. I slip, fall, and land hard on my left hip. Ouch! But fortunately, in spite of all those portents of certain doom, today's run with Kate goes splendidly. I pick myself up and find no major harm done. (Over the next few days I develop a huge purple bruise on the impact site; it looks rather like a map of Australia. No photos, please!)
We set off at 7:45am from the PHT's official endpoint, mile 10.0 by the Park Service sign just outside the Capital Beltway. After a steep descent we pass under the American Legion Bridge. I show Kate where I made my mark, a pair of bloody handprints on the pillars during the Potomac Heritage 50k race of 2007. Nothing visible remains, but Kate speculates that the hemoglobin might still be detectable with the correct tests.
Moments later, overconfident, I slip on the icy boulder—after which we tread cautiously. Both of us soon experience adrenaline moments crossing a series of icy tributary streams: Dead Run, Turkey Run, Pimmit Run, Donaldson Run, Windy Run, Spout Run. Frozen waterfalls decorate the cliffs. Light snow flurries whisper down, then vanish. The surface of the Potomac is mostly solid, with occasional gaps where the flow is swiftest. Pastels color the day: gray-green shades of lichens, faded orange-brown leaves, dusty blue-white sheen of ice.
Today is a Monday holiday, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. It's also the day before President Barack Obama's inauguration just across the river in Washington DC. Security is high and rising. Police-escort sirens wail on the GW Memorial Parkway that runs parallel to the trail as limousines of VIPs are escorted downtown. Helicopters swoop low over the water, practicing for tomorrow. Hosts of volunteers are at work along the riverbank, picking up trash as part of the President-elect's call for a national day of service. Kate and I greet them as we run past.
Steep hills, plus rocks and roots, render much of the trail unrunnable. So Kate and I speed-hike along, jogging on less-severe intervals and discussing life, yoga, family, mindfulness, and countless other topics. I restrain myself and only yak ~70% of the time today instead of my usual 90%+ blathering ratio. We muse about how people who can't run—which will of course include us, some day—must feel when they hear someone talking about this sort of experience. Envy? Boredom? Vicarious enjoyment? The choice of attitude is the listener's; our job is to remain modest and grateful for what we can do. As we chat with the trash-cleanup people we meet, when they ask how far we've gone today I try not to feel pride.
Meanwhile our progress downstream continues apace—i.e., slowly. During the drive to the start at 7am I divert to Chain Bridge, which we reach at mile 6. I park the car and create a mini "Aid Station" by concealing a big blue plastic bag full of goodies in an eroded hole a few feet downhill from the trail. There's a gallon jug of water in there, plus energy gels, crackers, pretzels, a banana, cookies, etc. It's a welcome sight when we arrive after about 1:40 on the trail and refuel. I conceal it again and we press onward.
After Chain Bridge the PHT crawls over what I lovingly call "The Cliffs of Insanity", a rugged traverse where the Park Service has thoughtfully attached iron railings to the sheer rock. Kate and I cling to the holds and survive, though as usual I find it a bit stressful. We cross a succession of tiny bridges over small ravines, including some single-person ones made of only two boards. Another bridge is situated nervously close to the edge of a steep drop-off high above the Potomac. In Fort Marcy Park there's a funny wooden pseudo-bridge over Pimmit Run, covered with dirt and designed to let heavy machinery get to the other side of the creek. A permit nailed to a post says that workers are installing "rip rap" to control stream erosion.
Onward and downward, and after almost 3 hours Kate and I arrive at civilization or what passes for it: the parking lot at Theodore Roosevelt Island. We pause and I persuade passing tourists to take a photo of us with my cellphone as we lean against the trailhead sign. Then back we go, running a bit more now where the terrain is gentler. Dog-walkers are out and about now as the day progresses, and we greet a succession of increasingly bouncy canines. The path up to the Cliffs of Insanity is occupied by a young clean-up person trying to remove some tangled fishing-line litter from the rails. Kate helps him avoid the hook.
My angst level spikes at mile 14, roughly 4:20 into the journey, when I've drunk all my water and we arrive back at Chain Bridge. Our "Aid Station" is gone! Apparently zealous volunteers spotted it in its hidey-hole, misidentified it as litter, and disposed of it. This is rather worrisome since the next chance to get clean water would require us to take a side trip up to Turkey Run Park, and that's an hour ahead.
"Let me check those trash cans!" I tell Kate, and climb the little path to the parking lot. The first bin I try is of no help, but—Joy!—the second one disgorges my big blue bag, with water jug and munchies intact inside. Kate and I fill our bottles, restock our pouches, nibble, and then return the remnants to the garbage can. Whew!
The rest of our journey is more relaxed now. We observe the contrast between grassy meadows and trees overgrown with invasive non-native plants. Kate points out a big hole in the trail that we didn't see, and fortunately didn't fall into, during our outbound trek. Each of us experiences a bout of mild dizziness, cause unknown, perhaps dehydration and fatigue. We take Succeed! electrolyte capsules and the vertigo fades. Small white pellets decorate the ground as we near our starting point. Apparently a local sleet storm passed through but never made it downriver. After 6 hours and 7 minutes we're back at our cars and I stop my watch. A few final photos, and we each head for home. Valkyrie services not required today—thank goodness!
(cf. Potomac Heritage 50k 2007 (2007-11-04), 2007-12-02 - PHT plus C-and-O Loop, 2008-05-24 - PHT and CJT, ...)
- Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 06:07:41 (EST)
In a letter written at age 83 the British philosopher/essayist Sir Isaiah Berlin observed:
|... my life has been entirely founded on a systematic over-estimate of my capacities ...|
When I saw that I thought, "Gee, that's me!" It took me a bit longer to figure out, "Gee, that's everybody!"—at least, everybody who's more-or-less considered successful.
Few, however, realize it ...
(from , note dated 1992-10-16 written to Michael Johnson; cf. IsaiahBerlin (2005-11-24), ...)
- Friday, January 30, 2009 at 19:13:14 (EST)
For Xmas last month son RadRob gave me a copy of The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by French philosopher André Comte-Sponville. It's by turns entertaining, flip, literary, mystical, witty, and frustrating. Overall, perhaps, it feels like a journey with a mindful yet highly analytic guide. A central moment occurs in the chapter "Can There Be an Atheist Spirituality?", as the author describes an experience of awakening:
The first time it happened, I was in a forest in the north of France. I must have been twenty-five or twenty-six. I had just been hired to teach high school philosophy in a town on the edge of a canal, up in the fields near the Belgian border. That particular evening, some friends and I had gone out for a walk in the forest we liked so much. Night had fallen. We were walking. Gradually our laughter faded, and the conversation died down. Nothing remained but our friendship, our mutual trust and shared presence, the mildness of the night air and of everything around us. . . . My mind empty of thought, I was simply registering the world around me—the darkness of the underbrush, the incredible luminosity of the sky, the faint sounds of the forest (branches snapping, an occasional animal call, our own muffled steps) only making the silence more palpable. And then, all of a sudden. . . . What? Nothing: everything! No words, no meanings, no questions, only—a surprise. Only—this. A seemingly infinite happiness. A seemingly eternal sense of peace. Above me, the starry sky was immense, luminous and unfathomable, and within me there was nothing but the sky, of which I was a part, and the silence, and the light, like a warm hum, and a sense of joy with neither subject nor object (no object other than everything, no subject other than itself). Yes, in the darkness of that night, I contained only the dazzling presence of the All. Peace. Infinite peace! Simplicity, serenity, delight.
The two latter words may sound incompatible, but at the time they weren't words, they were experience: silence, harmony. It was as if a perfect chord, once played, had been indefinitely prolonged, and that chord was the world. I felt fine. Incredibly fine! So fine that I didn't even need to notice it or hope that it would last. I can scarcely even say that I was walking—the walk was there, and the forest, and the trees and our group of friends. . . . The ego had vanished: no more separation or representation, only the silent presentation of everything. No more value judgments; only reality. No more time; only the present. No more nothingness; only being. No more frustration, hatred, fear, anger or anxiety; only joy and peace. No more make-believe, illusions, lies; only the truth, which I did not contain but which contained me. It may have lasted only a few seconds. I felt at once stunned and reconciled, stunned and calmer than I'd ever felt before. I had a sense of detachment, freedom and necessity, as if the universe had been restored to itself at long last. Was it finite or infinite? That was not the question. There were no more questions, so how could there be answers? There was only self-evidence. And silence. And the truth—but without words. And the world—but without signification or purpose. And immanence—but without its opposite. And reality—but without otherness. There was no faith, no hope, no sense of promise. There was only everything—the beauty, truth and presence of everything. This was enough. It was far more than enough! A sense of joyous acceptance. A sense of dynamic quietude—yes, like an unlimited courage. Rest without fatigue. What was death? Nothing. What was life? Only this palpitation of being within me. What as salvation? Only a word, or else this state itself. Perfection. Plenitude. Bliss. Such joy! Such happiness! Such intensity!
And then ... and then, he admits, he labels it with words—and it's gone. He's back in his life. Over the years, Comte-Sponville reports, he has experienced a few more such moments. Maybe they're what the Buddhists call kensho, glimpses of true self, as seen by a Western academic philosopher? Or are they just glimpses of a strange pantheistic mental state? In either case, they're fascinating!
(translation by Nancy Huston; cf. Buddhism Without Beliefs (2008-10-31), Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), ...)
- Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 05:02:49 (EST)
Why are we here? Maybe, at least in part, to get stuff and then give it away. Of course one can't avoid eventually giving it all away. And most of us become stuck on the "getting" part, and never make it around to the "giving" bit. But hey, ...
(cf. My Business (1999-05-30), My Religion (2000-11-06), MyOb (2002-08-18), EstateTax (2005-05-06), The Meaning of Life (2008-07-24), ...)
- Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 04:59:31 (EST)
|Gulls on the ice of Pohick Bay explode into flight as trail runners approach during the 2009 VHTRC Eagle Run. (As usual, a few haven't yet received the memo.)|
(click on the image for a higher resolution version; cf. BirdySunset (2006-12-03), ...)
- Monday, January 26, 2009 at 05:06:45 (EST)
In the New York Times some months ago Kevin Sack had a thoughtful article, "Doctors Say 'I'm Sorry' Before 'See You in Court'". Normal malpractice-lawyer advice is to admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter-accusations. That tends to lead to lengthy, confrontational, costly court cases with roll-of-the-die verdicts. An injured party may never see much of any award, since a large portion goes to attorney fees.
In contrast, a few major medical centers have begun to try something radically different and far more honorable:
By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation, they hope to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.
It seems to be working—the number of malpractice suits drops when hospitals try it, and patients and physicians are happier.
Hmmm ... wonder if the same principle could apply in other overly-litigatious arenas?
- Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 04:12:02 (EST)
"Look at that!" Mary Ewell points as we cross the bridge high above Goose Creek. At first I see a pair of great blue herons flying silently upstream below us, a dark shadowy one just behind the leader, wings flapping out of phase. Then suddenly I realize: it's one bird, perfectly mirrored in the still water.
Our run begins about four miles earlier at a landmark of ancient Ashburn: Partlow Brothers' country store on the W&OD Trail near milepost 28. After a mini-debate in the chill wind on the propriety of wearing gloves, hat, and jacket—all of which we eventually doff—we head west past the quarry overlook. Flocks of joggers and occasional cyclists zip along the pavement. We follow the parallel horse trail and enjoy its gravel surface. Whenever I pause to water a bush or tie my shoes Mary runs away from me. I sprint to catch up. "You told me to keep going!" is her excuse, amid protestations of how slow and out-of-shape she is.
At the Two Creeks Nature Area we take an unplanned side excursion on a winding forest trail. Another great blue heron, or maybe the same one, glides above Sycolin Creek. During the return journey our pace slows slightly. I grant Mary a quota of one "I'm sorry!" per mile, and she exhausts her balance before we get back to our cars. "Sprint - Walk - Sprint - Walk," is how she describes our pattern of gentle speedwork on the rolling hills.
- Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 03:39:12 (EST)
It's all one—especially "in here" and "out there". A thought from the Introduction of Jon Kabat-Zinn's Coming to Our Senses:
... For we are in intimate relationship with the world in all our moments. The give-and-take of that relationality is continually shaping our lives. It also shapes and defines the very world in which we live and in which our experiences unfold. Much of the time, we see these two aspects of life, how the world is treating me and how I am treating the world, as independent. Have you noticed how easily we can get caught up in thinking of ourselves as players on an inert stage, as if the world were only "out there" and not also "in here"? Have you noticed that we often act as if there were a significant separation between out there and in here, when our experience tells us that it is the thinnest of membranes, really no separation at all? Even if we sense the intimate relationship between outer and inner, still, we can be fairly insensitive to the ways our lives actually impinge upon and shape the world and the ways in which the world shapes our lives in a symbiotic dance of reciprocity and interdependence on every level ...
- Friday, January 23, 2009 at 04:44:26 (EST)
A few days ago the local classical music radio announcer mentioned something that caught my ear: Zimmermann's Café! In the early 1700's one Gottfried Zimmermann owned a coffeehouse on St. Catherine's Street in Leipzig, where on Friday evenings musicians would gather, talk, and play. The Collegium Musicum that met there was a club consisting of a few dozen university students. Johnann Sebastian Bach was the director of the group for about a decade beginning in 1729 and composed some pieces for the members to play. Gottfried Zimmermann bought several instruments for poor musicians to use.
A few decades ago a great-uncle of mine caught the genealogical bug and researched the background of "Three Zimmermann Brothers", as he called the photocopied book that resulted. They moved to Texas in the late 1800's from Leipzig to become farmers. One of the brothers was a great-grandfather of mine. They had ancestors who reputedly were bakers. Could one of them have been the same Gottfried Zimmermann? Small world! My copy of the family-tree booklet is lost around the house somewhere, along with most of the missing matter in the universe. Further investigation needed ...
(cf.  and  ...)
- Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 04:50:26 (EST)
"'This can't be right—there must be some mistake!'," Christina Caravoulias tells me a colleague of hers said, when he saw my impossibly-fast result at the New Year's Resolution 5k. We're running together along Sligo Creek at today's MCRRC 4 miler and Chris, editor of the club 'zine, is reporting on recent events as we begin to warm up. Temperatures are still in the single digits, however, so getting warm is a challenging task. Even though we both have a tendency to overheat, we're both wearing tights, gloves, and multiple layers.
But rewind to 5:50am: a last-quarter moon is sailing high as I leave home and trot the ~2 miles down neighborhood streets to Sligo Middle School. The official school song "By the Banks of Bounteous Sligo" comes to mind, as sung for me once by the late Robert Forward. He grew up in this neighborhood and half a century ago attended that very school. It's the staging area this morning for a race, the "Super Starr" held in memory of Jim Starr. I arrive early, sit outside the lunchroom/auditorium on a picnic bench for a few minutes of solitude, then enter. Jim's widow Beth Starr is here, and we chat as we set up.
Cara Marie Manlandro greets me and we get down to business hauling in race supplies, setting up for registration, arranging food and drink, etc. I drop a porcelain water crock and shatter it; George Tarrico says he'll take the price out of my paycheck (but of course volunteers are unpaid). A nice maintenance/supervisor lady from the school lends us a coffee urn and water container from the kitchen. All's well.
Christina Caravoulias arrives and takes photos. Ken Swab is also here, as are Betty Smith, Wayne Carson, Cathy Blessing, Don Libes, and several other comrades. The race begins at 8am about a quarter mile down the road on Sligo Creek Trail itself not far from the Sligo-Dennis Rec Center. Christina and I jog along together and enjoy the frigid day. The temperature is variously reported as between 2°F (= -17°C) and 9°F (= -13°C).
Chris and I cross the starting line 20 seconds after the "GO!" signal and trot upstream as the crowd spreads out before us. Sligo Creek has patches of open water but its surface is largely frozen. Approaching mile 1 we meet Ken Swab, whose toes are feeling frostbitten and who wisely has decided to cut today's run short. Betty Smith tells me after the race that she did likewise. Thankfully there's not much wind. The brilliant sun cheers us as we canter up hills and take occasional walk breaks.
We average under 12 minutes/mile, not bad for Chris since she's had two prior days of hard workouts. In the final half mile Wayne reappears, circling back to encourage us. He finished in a bit less than 32 minutes and reported that CM passed him at mile 1—which I tell him must have awakened him from his sandbagging slumber, since he sprang into action then to pass her. As we near the end Blair Jones is a little ahead. Chris accelerates in the home stretch and zips by Blair just at the finish line. Brava to them both! Icicles on my mustache and beard melt and drip on Christina's finisher card as I fill it out for her.
After the race Wayne and I nosh, then head out to enjoy a final lap of the course. A fellow with a lovely British/Australian/New Zealander accent (Tim?) admires my Superman cap so I lend it to him. He wants to get a photo with himself in it, to go along with Superman-theme race medals that he earned. He's in the club's Speed Development Program and promises to return the cap soon; I tell him he can pass it back via Christina, who plans to do the SDP this year. Another runner introduces himself and tells me he used my Jim Henson monument photo in his Xmas newsletter this year.
Wayne and I enjoy ourselves and do another 2+ miles at 10:30ish pace. Then Wayne gives me a ride home. The official weather service reports that the temperature has risen now to ~11°F.
(cf. IceFangs (2005-02-06), 2006-01-21 - Shooting Starr MCRRC race, RacyJetsam (2007-02-04), Icy Half Marathon (2008-01-25), ...)
- Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 04:56:49 (EST)
Like "The Coin" (a near-perfect 1793 chain cent), "The Angle" (at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863-07-03), and "The Belay" (a mountaineering feat on K2 in the Himalayas, 1953-08-10), another example of definitive terminology is called simply The Knowledge. It's what London taxi-drivers must have: an in-depth inside-out intimate mental map of the city, all its roads and routes and attractions and landmarks. Since 1865 applicants for a license must pass a test called, modestly, "The Knowledge of London". It typically takes two years of study, and one medical analysis found that the brains of those who acquired "The Knowledge" had a larger right hippocampus than others.
(cf. TheCoin (2002-03-05), TheBelay (2004-04-10), ...)
- Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 05:20:33 (EST)
Ken Swab gives me a ride to this morning's friendly trail run along Seneca Creek. I caution him about speed cameras along Route 28 in the Darnestown area, and he drives cautiously. Caren Jew is there already waiting, as is Ed Schultze, Mr. Greenway, who's still coming back from major knees surgery last year. Emaad Burki soon arrives and we meet a new person, Jamey Dunlavey. He's wearing a Groundhog 50k windbreaker, as is Caren, and they compare notes on the race. Jamey is a firefighter in Potomac but lives near the Catoctin Trail, one of Caren's favorite haunts north of Frederick. We joke about making friends with him so that we can use his home as a staging area for future Catoctin expeditions.
A chill wind blows across us and I belatedly discover that I've forgotten to bring a cap—kind but Caren lends me hers and toughs it out with a headband. We start moving a bit after 8am and trot upstream past Black Rock Mill, by which time Ken and Emaad and Jamey have gotten well ahead of Caren and me. Wooden bridges over side streams are icy-treacherous. After the next major road, maybe three miles out, Ms. C and I decide to turn back. As it turns out the others do likewise, and they catch up with us as we return to our cars. Caren and I tell outrageous lies about taking various side paths and running extra mileage while the rest are out of sight. Nobody believes us.
Caren confesses to doing a solo Moonlight Run a couple of evenings ago, at the agricultural history farm-park near where she lives. She heard gunfire in the night—it's deer "harvesting" season—and we all agree that she was typical-trail-runner crazy to venture out. After a short break we all head downstream through the usual muddy bogs. When Emaad reports that his GPS says 8 miles Caren and I again reverse course as the others do a bit extra. We run past the cars and back up the big hill beside Route 28, but alas the rest of the gang are in sight and so spoil our plan to lie about how much hillwork we had done. Our total time is 2:35 or so, including all breaks.
- Monday, January 19, 2009 at 05:43:18 (EST)
The Runner Code - Part 1 explored some serious parameters that characterize joggers and footracers—age, weight, sex, speed, distance preferences, etc. Now, for a few other interesting issues ...
- Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 05:00:01 (EST)
Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile science fiction novels were among the first I ever read. I still remember discovering and devouring Have Space Suit, Will Travel when I was shelving books in fifth grade, in the Molly B. Dawson Elementary School library. Of course, I was far too young to appreciate many of the finer literary features of Heinlein's writings. But somehow it was clear that this was good stuff, well-crafted, not hack storytelling like much of the competition. Within a few years I was inhaling all the classic SF that I could find at all the public libraries around town. Interlibrary loan was my best friend.
But some Heinlein tales had oblique allusions far beyond my youthful ken. Glory Road, for instance, came out in 1963 when I was eleven years old. It's a rip-roaring fantasy, with the obligatory impossible quests, stalwart heroes, magical spells, evil villains, lovely maidens, secret identities, trans-dimensional multi-universe travel, etc., etc. Glory Road also contained a goodly dose of tongue-in-cheek humor. Some things I got, like:
" ... Look, you've got a job. It keeps you busy and it's important. But me? There is nothing for me to do, nothing at all!—nothing better than designing bad jewelry. You know what I am? A hero by trade, so you told me; you recruited me. Now I'm retired. Do you know anything at all in twenty universes more useless than a retired hero?"
She mentioned a couple. I said, "You're stalling. Anyhow, they break up the blankness of the male chest. ..."
I figured that one out. But the following exchange totally befuddled me. Our adventuresome protagonists are trapped on the roof of a featureless building, a black glass tower, and have nothing to attach their rope to so that they can climb down and escape:
Star watched us. When I was forced to admit that a hundred feet short was as bad as no line at all, she said thoughtfully, "I wonder if Aaron's Rod would help?"
"Sure, if it was stuck in the top of this overgrown ping-pong table. What's Aaron's Rod?"
"It makes stiff things limp and limp things stiff. No, no, not that. Well, that, too, but what I mean is to lay this line across the roof with about ten feet hanging over the far side. Then make that end and the crossing part steel hard—sort of a hook."
What was the word that referring to re "... makes stiff things limp and limp things stiff ..."? Call me naïve. I had absolutely no idea until several years later ...
(cf. MentalBandwidthBoosters (1999-06-26), Three Man Boat (2002-01-10), MarryTheOne (2005-05-20), TrimCleavage (2007-08-04), Languages for Smart People (2008-03-12), ...)
- Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 05:39:54 (EST)
|Eleven weeks after I broke my arm—a stumble during a trek on the Appalachian Trail—the orthopedist says I'm good to go again. He gave me permission last month to resume running, with the caveat "Don't fall down!" Now he says I can do just about anything I could do before, except perhaps one-armed feats of strength. I still have twinges when I move my left shoulder too far in certain directions, but I'm not complaining—it could have been far worse.|
(cf. Humerus Fracture) (2008-10-15), Bend Sinister (2008-10-24), Ugly Arm (2008-10-30), Impatient Patient (2008-11-10), ...)
- Friday, January 16, 2009 at 05:04:06 (EST)
"Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la." CM and I sing along with the radio at 4:45am as we drive in the darkness to begin her longest run ever. "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows is on the oldies station. "Please turn that up!" I beg, and CM complies. The music reminds me of an anecdote, a Freudian-symbolic tableaux in a fancy hotel's cigar bar that I witnessed a few years ago (cf. SoSymbolic). I tell the story as we strap on water bottles and bum bags, don gloves and headbands.
"So come dance the silence down through the morning." At 0503 Cara Marie Manlandro and I commence our journey into the quiet of Rock Creek Park. I hand her the flashlight and trot along beside, dodging icy patches on the pavement. Our course is a recap (but in the opposite direction) of the orbit described in 2006-10-07 - Caren's Loop and 2007-10-20 - Mary's Loop. A few miles down Beach Drive near Broad Branch Road CM spies a big deer retreating into the woods. I suffer from slight intestinal distress for a while—perhaps a bowl of bean soup isn't the best dinner on the evening before a long outing? But the discomfort soon fades.
"Gray is my favorite color." The pre-dawn solitude is broken as cars pass by. We reach the Zoo tunnel at mile 6. It's scary-loud, reflecting sound so well that even single vehicles sound like aircraft taking off. We trot single-file along the narrow sidewalk beside gleaming tiles under fluorescent lights.
"Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones." CM loses a water flask, probably among the thick leaves by the path. We backtrack briefly but fail to spot it. Her other bottle plus my two prove ample, however, in the cool weather. I drop a Succeed! e-cap and abandon it in the dirt. The sun rises as we reach the Potomac River. We proceed upstream along the waterfront, past Georgetown bars that CM admits familiarity with. Our ~11 min/mi pace accelerates slightly as we begin our second ten miles on the Capital Crescent Trail. CM fumbles a couple of Sports Beans, which I pick up and eat. They're my favorite flavor, lime.
"Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales." CM explains her varsity swim team's gung-ho terms-of-art, "Bust it out!" and "Fly-and-Die!". They describe what I would consider imprudently aggressive pacing. I quote the old Army slogan, "We do more before 9am than most people do all day!" and point out that for us it applies before 6am. That leads me to muse about another Army motto, "Be all that you can be." I remember an excellent New Yorker magazine article about Esalen and the human self-actualization movement that led to that mantra a few decades ago. We chatter as we roam, "trail talk", sacrosanct communications until the next such journey. I suck down an energy gel and take a swig of tea-lemonade-salt drink. CM gets a bit of cramping in the lower leg, as seems to happen to her often at miles 12-14. An S! cap helps relieve it. She also feels a wee bit of chafing, but a few applications of grease fix that.
"I wanna be a lion." On the Capital Crescent Trail my phone rings; I fumble but can't get it out in time to answer. It's ever-dynamic Ken Swab, who when I call him back informs us that he's heading for Bethesda, several miles ahead, and will trot down the trail to join us. Half a decade ago Ken did this for me during my 2004-03-14 - Rock Creek Park, Capital Crescent loop. As always his cheery banter lifts our spirits. He gives me some gels he got at the Marine Corps Marathon last year, but when I stuff them into my pocket their weight causes my shorts to slip down. Oops! But I've got two pair on, so no worries. I transfer the packets to my bum bag and the problem is solved. Ken pulls CM and me along for a few miles, through Bethesda and onto the Georgetown Branch segment of trail, then turns back.
"Mr. Jones and me, stumbling through the barrio." CM and I continue at a steady pace. We jaywalk-run across Connecticut Av. At Jones Mill Rd we turn south toward where her truck is parked, where our circuit began more than three hours ago. When her GPS displays 20.00 we take our first walk break of the day. "My legs feel like Jell-O!" she admits. But when I ask, she also confesses that she could probably manage another 10k, slightly slower. This portends well for her first marathon next month, when we hope to do the George Washington's Birthday event together.
"And we all want something beautiful." CM's husband works a late shift and last night gets home close to 3am, just before she rises to go running. She returns home, showers, and rejoins him before he awakens. Awesome run. Beautiful day.
(cf. CM's Report on the run in Cara Marie's Vault ...)
- Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 19:41:43 (EST)
In the chapter "Selfing" of Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about getting away from too much focusing on "I", "me", and "mine":
So, when we speak about not trying so hard to be "somebody" and instead just experience being, directly, what it means is that you start from where you find yourself and work here. Meditation is not about trying to become a nobody, or a contemplative zombie, incapable of living in the real world and facing real problems. It's about seeing things as they are, without the distortions of our own thought processes. Part of that is perceiving that everything is interconnected and that while our conventional sense of "having" a self is helpful in many ways, it is not absolutely real or solid or permanent. So, if you stop trying to make yourself into more than you are out of fear that you are less than you are, whoever you really are will be a lot lighter and happier, and easier to live with, too.
We might begin by taking things a little less personally. When something happens, try to see it without the self-orientation, just for fun. Maybe it just happened. Maybe it's not aimed at you. Watch your mind at such times. Is it getting into "I" this and "me" that? Ask yourself, "Who am I?" or, "What is this 'I' that is claiming ownership?"
This brings to mind philosopher Daniel Dennett's comment in Freedom Evolves: "If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything," and his follow-up footnote: "This was probably the most important sentence in Elbow Room (Dennett 1984, p. 143), and I made the stupid mistake of putting it in parentheses. I've been correcting that mistake in my work ever since, drawing out the many implications of abandoning the idea of a punctate self. Of course, what I meant to stress with my ironic formulation was the converse: You'd be surprised how much you can internalize, if you make yourself large."
I still don't understand that—but hmmm, maybe the problem isn't the "that", it's the "I"?!
(cf. Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), ...)
- Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 05:09:33 (EST)
A pair of bumper stickers that for whatever reasons have lodged in my subconscious:
|Wag More & Bark Less|
|Got Knowledge? Thank a Scientist!|
And another pair, playing the ever-popular self-referential humor card:
(cf. MoreFunLessStuff (2002-10-01), ToneWoods (2002-10-05), BeTheChange (2003-10-31), DyslexicMetahumor (2004-08-26), MysticMantra (2005-01-15), ExtraCurricular (2005-02-11), DisBelief (2005-10-31), FishingForAnAnswer (2006-02-11), ...)
- Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 05:03:28 (EST)
A used book titled Fifty Great Short Stories fell into my hands many months ago, and I've been carrying it around to read "in between" other things. It's a paperback reprint of a collection edited by Milton Crane in 1952, and many of the pieces in it are severely dated. One by Rudyard Kipling, however, leapt off the page at me and caught me by the ear. "The Courting of Dinah Shadd" includes some glorious imagery, e.g.:
Over our heads burned the wonderful Indian stars, which are not all pricked in on one plane, but, preserving an orderly perspective, draw the eye through the velvet darkness of the void up to the barred doors of heaven itself. The earth was a grey shadow more unreal than the sky. We could hear her breathing lightly in the pauses between the howling of the jackals, the movement of the wind in the tamarisks, and the fitful mutter of musketry-fire leagues away to the left. A native woman from some unseen hut began to sing, the mail-train thundered past on its way to Delhi, and a roosting crow cawed drowsily. Then there was a belt-loosening silence about the fires, and the even breathing of the crowded earth took up the story.
But then only a few paragraphs later sudden tomfoolery erupts among the British soldiers resting around their campfires after a long march:
I drifted across to the men's fires in search of Mulvaney, whom I found strategically greasing his feet by the blaze. There is nothing particularly lovely in the sight of a private thus engaged after a long day's march, but when you reflect on the exact proportion of the "might, majesty, dominion, and power" of the British Empire which stands on those feet you take an interest in the proceedings.
"There's a blister, bad luck to ut, on the heel," said Mulvaney. "I can't touch ut. Prick ut out, little man."
Ortheris took out his house-wife, eased the trouble with a needle, stabbed Mulvaney in the calf with the same weapon, and was swiftly kicked into the fire.
A "house-wife" is a small container to hold needles and thread. In long-distance running circles greasing one's feet is a common ritual, as of course is blister treatment and arguing. I can identify with poor Mulvaney!
- Monday, January 12, 2009 at 05:05:18 (EST)
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