Category Archives: Writing

The Write Stuff

IT’S TIME TO MAKE one of those “put up or shut up” moves. And ’tis the season to do so, after all.

I began this 2011 with the goal of sharing my journey to my first marathon and from there to my “year of being 50” celebrations, including a 600-mile bike trip and my first 50K ultra, among other challenges.

Like finishing this race (2016).

For eight years now I’ve continued to write about my adventures, mainly in athletics. But I haven’t shared much about my other writing, which includes fiction, essays, and technical papers. With everything else going on, including starting and running my own company, some things had to be set aside. And creative writing just for the sake of creative writing has been one of those things.

It’s a poor excuse. And it must end.

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was very young. In elementary school, my adventures of a police detective and his faithful St. Bernard were considered good enough to read to my entire class. And over the years I’ve written many short stories, worked on some ideas for novels, and even made some feeble attempts at poetry. I’ve also attended several writing seminars and been part of a writers group. It’s been fun, but always a sideshow to the rest of my life. In one of my very first posts on this blog, I confess to this. Here’s a link to it:  The Hard Work

Being part of a writers group helped me write more regularly, but it wasn’t enough.

I daydream about getting that work out to a wider audience, or even pursuing (yet another) career as a writer. That takes time and effort. And above all, having a writing routine. Among the “keys to success” of prolific writers is that they write on a regular basis. Stephen King writes every day. With no distractions or excuses allowed.

And so while I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to make one for 2020. And that is to find out if I really want to finish those stories and novels, and do my best to get them read by others. From ultrarunning and Aikido training, I know I possess the discipline to accomplish anything I really want to do. It’s time for me to decide if creative writing is one of them.

“If you want to be a writer, write.” – Epictetus (*)

And if it ends up that is not? Then at least I will know that. But even if I end up going in other directions, my athletic and other adventures will definitely continue. As will my dedication to share them with you in this blog. Thanks again to all of you for finding the time to include me in your life.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my family to yours.

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(*) I suppose I should mention that, like Socrates and many other famous teachers (including the one whose birth we celebrate this week), Epictetus never actually wrote anything down. We are fortunate enough to have some of his teachings thanks to his students. (Then again, Epictetus never said he wanted to be a writer.)

A Post from the Cave

Yesterday I was innocently working from home when my cell phone rang. The caller ID read “UNAVAILABLE” so I should have known better. But just in case it was someone from the office, I picked up and said hello.

“Hello?” a female voice replied. Then after a moment, “I’m so sorry – I was adjusting my headset! Anyway, I’m calling because you recently stayed at one of our resorts, and we have this offer . . .”

picard-face-palm

Oh, Lord. I let her pitch her absolutely fabulous offer, until she wanted to ask me a few questions. Then I said, “I suppose there’s a timeshare presentation involved in this?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you,” she replied. “Can I ask you a few questions?” I repeated my timeshare suspicion. “Can I ask you a few questions?” she said again.

I hung up. She was a robot, pre-screening before handing me off to a closer. But I have to admit I was fooled for a bit. They are getting better at this. Robot callers even deny they’re robots. Read an example here.

No, totes true dude, I'm a human - beep beep beep - HA HA HA HA- How about them Cubs?

No, totes truly dude, I’m a human – beep beep beep – HA HA HA HA- How about them Cubs?

Which got me thinking (hey, it’s better than working, right?) about the new waves of technology that make virtual reality closer to “real” reality. Video games use the moves of real athletes who were wired up just for that purpose. An increasing number of movies are either partly, or completely, CGI generated. And new VR headsets are coming that will let the wearer participate in some incredible experiences. Say, simulating a mountain bike adventure on your stationary bike, riding a roller coaster from your couch, or even flying like a bird. Click here for details.

I find a kind of odd symmetry here with what else is going on in the world. With the country’s future and the world’s future more uncertain that ever, it’s natural, I suppose, for the visual and tactile boundaries between fantasy and reality to blur as well. How long before we simply sit in chairs all day living entirely in a fantasy world? (Perhaps we are now. Plato suggested that we were.)

platos-cave

Look! I can do a bunny rabbit!

But as we approach our country’s annual day of gratitude and overeating, there are a few things I can be certain of, and count on:

  • I have the love of my family and can count on them supporting me no matter what, and that I would do the same for them.
  • I can count on Skip and the Body Specs crew mashing me into the floor so I can get back up stronger than ever.
  • I can count on pain, blisters, and bruises from running marathons and trail ultramarathons, and that I will treasure each one anyway.
  • Our cats will continue walking on the books we’re trying to read, nagging for food when I’m trying to concentrate, and being an unending source of affection and comic relief. (Screw you and your feline hatred, The Atlantic; cats rule.)
  • I’m certain that people will continue to say to me, “So I was reading your blog the other day…” when I didn’t think they knew I had a blog.

And finally, I’m certain that America will remain the land of the free and the home of the brave, as long as we remain brave enough to stand for what’s right. Our freedom was too hard earned to take for granted or let others try to diminish or take away.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

A Hundred Thousand Moments

This morning I went to the semi-annual Dan (black belt) test at my Aikido school’s main dojo. It was a long test, with three people each testing for shodan (1st degree), nidan (2nd degree) and sandan (3rd degree) rank. But it was also an exciting test to watch. At Dan level you see everything from very basic techniques to advanced series of throws and weapon strikes. Students are also tested in the teaching method and in their understanding of Aikido concepts.

Jo demonstration following the test.

Jo demonstration following the test.

One of the testers (*) had been in a kenshu (special advanced class) with me several years ago. After the test I went to say hello and congratulate him. He’s a reader of this blog, and he told me he’d noticed that when I write about running he sees an Aikido influence, and vice versa.

He’s right; for me, both physical and philosophical elements cross from one to the other. Sometimes it happens consciously, and sometimes it sneaks in when I’m not looking. Either way, I’m pretty sure it’s helped me improve at both.

I have not, however, attempted this during a marathon. Yet.

I have not, however, attempted this during a marathon. Yet.

The most recent instance was at yesterday morning’s run with PR Fitness. I made it a checkup for next week’s 25K Vasa Trail race, upping my usual pace and monitoring my body’s performance. Things began well; I got up the killer hill on the route without problems, and even sprinted a bit afterward. But as I passed through Argo Park with a couple miles to go, I was fatigued and struggling to maintain form. I just wanted the run to be over.

Then out of the blue the thought came: What are you doing? It’s a bright sunny morning, the fall colors are incredible, the temperature is perfect for running, and you’re not enjoying it. What, then, are you out here for?

2015 Richmond half, asking myself that very question.

2015 Richmond half, asking myself that very question.

Here was Aikido speaking. At this point I’d learned what I needed to know for next week’s race. It was time – past time – to just be in the moment. I slowed down, took a deep breath (or three) and relaxed, taking in what was around me and being okay with the discomfort. I reached the studio no less tired or sore, but almost reluctant to stop. All it took was that adjustment in perception.

Okay for a training run, you might say, but how about an ultramarathon? When running continuously for up to a hundred miles, is it really possible to live moment-to-moment? Yes; doing that at Kettle Moraine this year helped me get through some tough and tedious stretches. Now considering that based on my finish time I had 101,700 possible “moments” (assuming one second per moment), of which I managed maybe a few hundred, by no means am I good at it yet. But even that little bit made a difference.

The alternative (thinking about how many miles remain) is not, shall we say, exactly motivational. So much better to think: Here I am in this moment. Another moment is now here, and I’m still going. Perhaps ironically, I often feel most “moment aware” when I approach the finish line; the realization that I’m really going to finish this thing is enough to trigger it.

Yeah, but it's 77 miles and many hours to go before I can ZZZ . . .

Yeah, but it’s 77 miles before *I* can ZZZ . . .

Just to bring things full circle, at the Dan test this morning, Sensei asked one of the students the meaning of a particular Japanese phrase. “It means, ‘live in the moment,'” the student replied, and explained how it applies both to Aikido training and to the rest of our lives. He paused a moment to think of an example. I felt like jumping up and saying, “Ooh! Ooh! I got one!” but I’m not sure I’d have appreciated the moments that followed. I’ll save it for my own test someday.

Today was another perfect fall day, so after the test I went for a two-hour bike ride out there in the color and sunshine. Just to practice the principle, of course.

Great color in downtown Chelsea, MI.

Great color in downtown Chelsea, MI.

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(*) Actually, two former kenshu classmates tested today, as did my current class instructor. I enjoyed their tests very much. Congratulations again! Osu!

Why I’m Not Giving up Goals

Last month at my favorite writers retreat, I was talking with a friend about my running, and that I’d just run my first 50-miler (hey, she asked). She shook her head. “How did you ever do something like that?” she wondered.

I told her about my “year of being 50” activities and the stuff I’d accomplished, including a 50K, and this had been the next challenge. “You are so goal oriented!” she said. And it’s true: I got where I am by setting goals all along the way. And I intend to keep doing so.

Now wait a minute! In your last post, you argued against setting goals!

Now wait a minute! In your last post, you argued why you shouldn’t set goals!

True. Lemme ‘splain.

Have you learned yet, grasshopper?

Have you learned yet, grasshopper?

I’m fine with the idea that you can pursue something for its own sake, and you don’t need a goal to grow and improve. My Aikido instructors have been trying to beat this into my head for eight years – that I should focus on the training, and not on what rank I am. So I didn’t set an arbitrary date for achieving black belt, although I have set goal dates for tests. (But not this year: my injured shoulder has made testing impossible for the time being, so I am forced to focus on the training itself. Karma?)

But with running, setting goals has helped motivate me. It’s how this infrequent runner who did the occasional 5K race became a 1,000+ mile per year runner who can run 50 at a time. I didn’t really get serious as a runner until I signed up for a Running 101 class at a local running store. The instructor handed a questionnaire to all of us, asking what we wanted to get out of the class, and – significantly – to choose a running goal and a timeframe for achieving it. I’d never run more than 5-6 miles at one time, but I committed to a half marathon later that year.

Crossing the finish line at Run Woodstock.

Crossing the 50-mile finish line. Never woulda happened without that first commitment to a distance I’d never run before.

Now, I wasn’t going to “fail” Running 101 if I hadn’t set a goal, and no one would have been disappointed (except me), but putting it in writing, and handing it in, made it real – something I felt obligated to carry out. Every milestone since then has been the result of setting a goal, then putting in the training needed. If I were just running to stay fit, or for the social aspects, then I wouldn’t feel the need to keep setting them. But there are still some personal limits I’d like to test.

And then there’s this quote from Bill Copeland:

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”

Is it possible to do well at something without goals? Sure. But will you? Without that first half marathon, would I have run a full one the next year, or my first ultra the year after that? Maybe, but likely not. The simple act of committing to the half was that rare event – a genuine life changer.

NaNoWriMo Web BadgeGoing back to the writers retreat – I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, attended many retreats, and even managed to “win” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge by writing a novel of 50,000 words in one month. With NaNoWriMo 2013 fast approaching, I’ve had to ask myself why I didn’t finish that novel, revise it, and look to publish it. Yes, I have a rather busy rest of my life. But is the real reason because I didn’t set a goal to finish what I’d started?

I think I’m going to make myself find out. Stay tuned.

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P.S. My thanks to the Personal Excellence website for introducing me to the Bill Copeland quote with their article on why you should set goals. Read the article here.