Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Evening run, post storm

Clouds rode horses or maybe they were tumbled bowling pins. They brought wind and obstinate thunder and flung branches and leaves down the street.

Luckily I left the truck windows down so I stood on the street, face to the wind, rain starting to fall, watching the circus arrive.


I don't run in the evenings, but it worked out that way. The storm pushed the heat from the ledge and the townspeople were coming out to identify the body of their former oppressor.

I say hello to everyone I pass by on a run. The shared smiles lighten the legs, I'm convinced, but that's not the reason.

J Dilla's "Donuts" is loud on the iPod, but not to block out sound, rather to stoke a shared journey. It's Dilla's opus--an album released three days before his death and that he worked to perfect, even from his hospital bed. It's a musical, spiritual journey, whose beats, rhythms, samples accompany and inhabit and send you. Each song may be like pulling a different donut from a box.

Dilla's vibes, the cool air, the puddles along the rail trail, the families and kids and dogs, all blend together as the heart rate climbs and sweat rolls.

Coming across Goldsborough Street, I think of sitting in the car as a kid and watching freight trains click by on this same path. I'm not that fast going by, or noisy, and cars don't generally stop.

My best runs are negative splits--I speed up as the run goes on, but that's been tougher with the heat and a lack of solid runs this summer. Today, thanks to storm, thanks to Dilla, thanks to trail greetings it all works and I finish spent but strong.

I walk inside, smiling and sweat covered, looking for coconut water, and Robin asks, "how was your run?"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Skate to Create

"Skateboarding is not a crime." That was one of many bumper stickers on the blue Ford LTD station wagon that was my first car. From Tony Hawk to Powell Perelta, Alva, they were all skate-related, but that was the sticker that seemed to snag a worldview and spoke my truth 22 years ago. Funny how I've thought about putting that same sticker on my truck today.

I just read an article about pro skateboarder Danny Way in Men's Journal by a writer and skateboarder named Bret Anthony Johnston. As he's wrapping up the article, he throws this out there:

"Think Picasso, Hemingway, Dvorak. Think Laird Hamilton, Chuck Yeager... Consider the likelihood that these men don't possess qualities the rest of us lack, but instead have within them intense voids, empty and expansive chambers of possibility. Maybe these voids--which the men fill with what can only be called art--are innate, or maybe they're the result of damage or sacrifice or failures the artists have endured. The origin doesn't matter. Nor does the medium."

Johnston was talking about Danny Way's approach to skateboarding and life and expanding that approach to other artists; other practitioners of life who become great, distinguish themselves, separate themselves in some way through a sustained effort and focus; seeing something in their field that the rest of us haven't.

I've never given myself over to skateboarding in that way, nor have I ever been good enough to justify doing so. But skateboarding has, from the beginning at age 13, represented a worldview for me. It has been one of the few experiences, still today, where the rest of the world melts away when simply cruising or carving or pumping atop asphalt. Like trail running or writing or meditation, where I can be completely in the moment without realizing it.

At age 15 I remember thinking to myself and saying to a few others that skateboarding would be a lifelong passion and activity for me--whether skating or writing about it, etc. I doubt I would have thought about longboarding then, or  long distance longboarding, but that has been the co-evolution of the sport/art and me and where I find my stoke. In addition to writing about skating and skateboarding a few times a week, Bret Anthony Johnston is the director of the creative writing program at Harvard. He's got a book of short stories set in and around Corpus Christi, Texas, and another on creative writing. Someone who gets and shares the stoke.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just add colors

It's funny where the self turns up. For what it's worth, I feel more myself in an old pair of Vans, jeans and an Element t-shirt, my tongue sharply burnt and bitter from an Americano, reclined in a coffee shop's straight-back chair with a thin, dog-eared book on the table, scrawling the other half of some half-thought truth in a notebook.

But what is the self anyway, but a kaleidoscope of experiences leading up to a given point in time and place and including the desires and experiences you are hoping to have, the ones you want to be able to look back on as "yours," all swirling colors through a cylinder.

At the same time, some self had better pay the electric bill and cut the grass.

Whatever we make self out to be, those times when we don't notice it, when we are opening ourselves wide to let more in, when we expand ourselves--through love, through God, through nature, through our children, through art, through music, through teaching--those are the times when our selves smile and the kaleidoscope of the self adds more colors.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Off the Shelf: "A Moveable Feast"

Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast," will never be put in a box in my house. I keep it on a bookshelf where I can get to it or at least see it as a reminder. I'm not given to re-reading books particularly, but I like it as a visual prompt, something to kickstart my cranium.

Writing is a solitary (read lonely) pursuit, as is running and a lot of the things I find myself drawn to. At the same time I am drawn to chilling with like-minded folk and being a part of a creative community. That's part of the reason the Rise Up Runners group has had such a big impact on me, my pursuits, circle of friends, etc. When I can share experiences and accomplishments with and of others--finishing a marathon, a PR, finding a new trail, stumbling upon a sublime scene--it somehow deepens the whole deal.

That's harder to come by in writing, being able to find that sense of shared, creative community. Those folks who, by their own writing and inquiries and commitment and curiosity and enthusiasm, also push/encourage others to do the same. "A Moveable Feast" tracks Hemingway (he wrote it, so I guess more accurately he tracks himself) in Paris in the 1920s after he's made a BIG decision to kick journalism to the curb and dedicate himself to writing his own truth, his own art. How many people come to a point in their lives where they opt not to make that tough choice? Imagine all the stuff high school and college English students wouldn't have to read if Hemingway had not made that call ;)

Hemingway describing Paris and the other writers and cats around him is eye opening for anyone who has only come to know F. Scott Fitzgerald by reading Gatsby or Ezra Pound by scratching their head through the Cantos. H (we'll call him "H" to save time) runs into them, parties with them, talks shop with them, those who have made the call to make the attempt to be writers and who would all end up being widely studied and read by all of us that follow. They became their own creative community. H describes them and the whole experience with the irreverence with which we talk about our own peeps. Refreshing and inspiring for a 20-something wanna-be writer who picks up the book just after graduating as an English/philosophy student, who has always thought about writing and has only know the Paris-in-the-20s luminaries through their books an people writing about their books.

I like thinking about them on the ground floor, as they went about their business. The same as I like thinking about the Founding Fathers of our country in the way Joseph Ellis does in "Founding Brothers"--as cats that wake up in the morning and go about their business and make decisions the way any of us do. They had a conviction that those decisions and actions might amount to something, but no guarantees.

So when I wake up and knock back some coffee and contemplate what I will do with the morning or the day or the weekend, I look over at the bookshelf and I catch a glimpse of "A Moveable Feast." Perspective. A kick in the arse. The rest is up for grabs.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"You just go on your nerve."

Frank O'Hara is like laxative, creatively speaking. Not that he pulls crap out of you, but that he gets creativity rolling like bran muffins.

O'Hara held that to write, to live, "you just go on your nerve." He writes close to the bone, no unnecessary flourish or convention. This from the cat that wrote a book of poems all during his lunch breaks. His "Lunch Poems" has been one of the seminal inspirational find-you-when-you-need-it books for me.

Erik Mongrain performed at NightCat in Easton last week. His guitar is it for him. His life and dedication pour out from it. He looks at his instrument as holding more sounds and more possibilities than most would consider. He is not constrained by convention. Nor was O'Hara.

I hope to come at words that way. Yet sometimes I feel like words are the lamest medium, for being the most used and thereby hollow or tinny for their misuse. If we spoke in music notes, perhaps they'd be cliche riddled.

But we work with words. And we converse by convention, which makes it harder to break out, to "go on your nerve."

Where are the times when I live by going on my nerve? When I run down a winding, wooded singletrack or quick step over rocks and roots running downhill. No thinking, just instinct, nerve.

When I am lost in the sound and vibration of polyurethane skateboard wheels humming on new pavement. Presence.

In the improvisation of Miles or Monk or Coltrane. Or the nerve of O'Hara.

Through all of it, I learn to peel back the skin, with a ballpoint pen, to expose sinew and bone. To live and write from the core, from beneath the surface, pushing past appearances. At least that's the hope. To sometimes get it right, going on nerve.